Thursday, August 6, 2009

River management, Montana style

Posted By on Thu, Aug 6, 2009 at 2:14 PM

This week's Indy cover story focuses on recreation on and regulation of the Blackfoot River, Missoula's go-to spot for fishing, rafting or just getting a buzz on. The article follows Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) ranger Chris McGrath over the course of a single patrol. However, there's much more to the story of river management locally.

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As FWP's Chet Crowser mentions in the article, FWP is currently drafting a recreation management plan for the Blackfoot with the aid of a citizen advisory committee. Once completed, the plan—one of the only such plans in the state—will outline longterm procedures and goals for preservation of the resource in the face of increasing use. Crowser says FWP could release a draft of the plan as early as late August. A public comment period on the draft will stretch through the fall.

The management plan will address a number of concerns, including: crowding at access sites, user conflict, unmanaged access, and user behavior. So far the citizen advisory committee has favored less restrictive alterations to recreation management, such as increased signage and enforcement. But there's potential for more restrictive changes to procedure should the resource come under heavy threat. These may include traffic limitations at access sites or decreased parking. Such possibilities were discussed at committee meetings this spring, but may or may not be part of the pending draft's language.

FWP currently operates using the Blackfoot Management Direction, a rough set of guidelines written up in 2000. The document—which describes itself as a "snapshot in time"—lists water access sites and establishes intended uses for different stretches of river, but stops short of offering serious direction for the agency's future on the Blackfoot. Crowser says a definitive management plan will drastically improve FWP's ability to maintain a pristine but accessible public wilderness in Missoula's backyard.

Future management procedures on the Blackfoot will likely resemble those of FWP's Smith River Recreation Management Plan, adopted in 1996 and revised this year. The Smith and Blackfoot rivers are similar in that large stretches of both are privately owned. The Smith River plan offers some hints as to how FWP might regulate fishing/rafting access, camping opportunities, human waste disposal, and commercial activity on the Blackfoot River.

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