Madison River Environmental Assessment
The Madison River Environmental Assessment will go before the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Commissioners June 12.
The commission will decide if the assessment is ready to be released for public comment. Madison Foods owner, Chris Gentry, created a petition against entering a public comment period. As of June 9, about 530 people from all over the country have signed the petition, which states that a pandemic is not the right time for the important consideration of regulating the Madison River.
“Not saying that the river doesn’t need rules, but this is not the time,” Gentry said. “With all the uncertainty and fear that’s going on, this puts more burden on us. They will be using it [Madison River regulations] as a template for the future of other Montana rivers. We can’t afford to mess it up.”
Gentry said that a public commenting period, even if extended, would be inappropriate for the time due to the financial and personal uncertainties COVID-19 has brought to the fishing communities around the Madison River.
“The important thing to keep in mind is that this is just the beginning of an extended process,” FWP fisheries director Eileen Ryce said.
According to Ryce, FWP plans to continue the process and recommend the environmental assessment be released for public comment, which will be a minimum of 40 days. If the commission approves to release the Madison River Environmental Assessment for public comment, public meetings will be held in Ennis, West Yellowstone, Butte and Bozeman. At least two other formal public commenting periods are on the horizon as part of the process.
Some local business and residents oppose FWP’s proposed alternatives for regulating the Madison River, such as potentially capping the number of outfitters at 2018 levels. Some are concerned that the restrictions will cause an economic downfall for the communities that depend on fishing tourism. But most agree that social conflicts are deteriorating the Madison River experience and should be regulated to a degree. According to FWP reports, commercial outfitter trips on the Madison River have more than doubled since 2008, and angler pressure on the river has more than doubled since 2003.
One of FWP’s goals in implementing regulations on the Madison River is to sustain the ecological and economic benefits of the river. But Gentry’s petition is about the timing for the public to discuss their concerns.
“If there’s a Republican governor come November, this is not going to happen,” Gentry said. “This is our lives, just because yours [job] is done doesn’t mean ours has to be too.”
The FWP is a state-run agency under the governor’s supervision. Ryce had no comment on the role of the governor in the process to implement regulations on the Madison River. She said that the petition seemed like a desire to stop the process.