Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks clarifies NRC process
A look at the process for developing recreation management rules
ENNIS – The Madison River Negotiated Rulemaking Committee will hold its next meeting March 25 and 26 in Bozeman at the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks regional office. The meetings will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an opportunity for public comment at the end of the meeting.
This will be the fourth set of meetings held by the group, which is tasked by the Montana Fish & Wildlife Commission with developing rule recommendations for managing recreation on the Madison River.
The Committee is taking up controversial and often contentious issues, which isn’t surprising given the popularity of the Madison River and the number of people who recreate there. For instance, in 2017 angling on the Madison River surpassed 200,000 angler days for the first time ever. The Madison sees the highest number of angler days of any water body in the state.
To give some perspective on the issue, it’s helpful to look back at how we got here and what led up to the formation of the Committee and what it is trying to accomplish.
In 2012 and 2013, in response to concerns that recreation pressure on the Madison River was creating conflict amongst users, FWP appointed a Citizen Advisory Committee to look into the issue and make recommendations. That CAC met several times and issued recommendations to FWP in May of 2013. The department adjusted the recommendations to produce implementable regulations and proposed those to the Fish & Wildlife Commission in April of 2018.
During the intervening five years, angler numbers and recreation pressure continued to increase on the river and the need to find a management solution became more pressing.
During the April 2018 Fish & Wildlife Commission (FWC) meeting many members of the public spoke to the department’s recommendations, and the Commission ultimately voted not to put the department’s proposal out for public comment at that time.
In June, the Commission directed the department to pursue negotiated rulemaking. FWP solicited applications for the Madison River Negotiated Rulemaking Committee on behalf of the Commission. In December, the Commission appointed committee members to represent all interests groups pertaining to the issue.
Negotiated rulemaking is a process outlined in Montana law. It requires the consensus of stakeholders (committee members) on any decisions, unless the members decide on another mechanism to reach agreement. This means a unanimous vote, or at least a willingness of each member to say they can live with the decision. The law also required FWP to convene a group that represents the interests in the issue at hand. In this case, recreation on the Madison River, including commercial and noncommercial recreation.
When the Committee meets consensus on recommendations, they will be presented to the FWC, which may choose to accept, reject or modify the recommendations in whole or in part. Ultimately the FWC is the decision maker for adopting rules for the Madison River. If the Committee is unable to reach consensus, the department will go back to the Commission for direction on how to move forward.
The FWC will consider any proposal at a publicly noticed meeting, take public comment and decide on a course of action. In addition, after a public meeting, the Commission will allow for a public comment period, conduct public meetings on the proposal, have the department do an environmental assessment, and draft Administrative Rules of Montana rules. Following public comment, the Commission can adopt, reject or modify the proposal at another public meeting that will include public comment.
Currently, the Committee is essentially in the middle of their process – finding consensus on a recommendation to manage recreation on the Madison River.
This recommendation, should the Committee reach consensus, signifies the start of when public input into the process begins.
While people have strong opinions about what is happening and the deliberations of the Committee, their opportunity to comment on the issue is forthcoming.
At this point the FWC is relying upon the Committee, which represents all interests in the matter, to come up with a starting point. Ultimately, the Commission will interact with the public and make the final decision.