FWP approves Madison recreation management plans

The Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks approved recommendations for managing recreation along the Madison River on Thursday. The recommendations now go to public comment.

The Madison River is one of the state’s most popular rivers to float and fish. With increased use, recreationalists have complained of congestion at certain river access sites. The recommendations given at Thursday’s commission meeting are a step in the direction of addressing those congestion problems.

As the first step in creating a complete recreation management plan for the Madison River, the recommendations presented to FWP commission will now go to the public for comments. As comments are returned, FWP will begin analyzing the river from an environmental aspect and create a draft of a recreation management plan.

The seven-member citizen advisory committee asked FWP officials for more detailed information about how the river is used. The committee met ten times from May 2012 to March 2013 to complete the recommendations presented to the FWP commission on Thursday.

“The main reason for developing a recreation management plan is the Madison River is one of the highest in use,” said Cheryl Morris, FWP R3 River Manager. “The river is heavily impacted by different users. There needs to be some kind of system to manage the increasing amount of people who use the Madison River.”

Up until this point, FWP has monitored commercial guides and competitive events but have not determined what the use of the river by other public users is. The committee requested FWP do a survey among river users to determine the extent of the perception that access spots are congested.

The committee also suggested specific recommendations for certain stretches of river that covers from Yellowstone Park to the Headwaters State Park in Three Forks.

In its recommendations, the advisory committee addressed the concern with maintaining the Madison River as a “world class fishing experience.” The committee suggested some recommendations be effective immediately including following through on the survey to determine the busiest times of year and how people use the river.

The committee also recommended the Lyons Bridge Fishing Access to be redesigned to alleviate congestion, the 8 Mile Ford Fishing Access Site dirt road maintenance be improved through the peak season, and the boat ramp at the Varney access be redone in addition to other maintenance projects.

Within the 15-page document outlining the recommendations of the citizen committee, the conclusion of the report says the management plan needs to focus on recreation management rather than resource management.

FWP will invite the public to comment on the recommendations of the advisory committee. The public can send their comments to mrrp@mt.gov. After that period of public comment, the committee will write a draft. Morris says that will then go back out to the public for comment before being finalized. The earliest a recreation plan could be implemented is 2014 with work going into 2015.

Some members of the public have already showed concerns about how a recreation management plan could restrict use of the river. Changes could involve restricting areas people are allowed to fish and requiring permits for the river, but FWP says there is a process that will take time and that they will likely conduct a three-year survey prior to considering restrictions.

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