Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Outfitters Cry Foul over Madison River Permit Plan

Edited 2/7, see comments.

Fishing outfitters who guide on the Madison River below Quake Lake are fired up about a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plan that would require them to pay 3% of their gross revenue from river trips for a permit to operate on the river. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) asserts that the money will go to preserving the health of the river. Additionally, the agency believes that the permit plan will serve to reduce overcrowding on the river and keep ‘rogue’ (note the typo in the story) guides from targeting the Madison without paying their share.

The BLM, the agency implementing the plan, stated at the recent public meeting that purpose of the plan is to "obtain compensation for commercial use of public resources."

I am not sure how to feel about this issue. I can see it from both sides. While it is pretty hard to argue against the commercial-use-of public-resources angle, outfitters like Craig Matthews of Blue Ribbon Flies have already sunk a lot of time and money into preserving the Madison for public use, and 3% of the gross for an outfitter’s river trips is pretty steep. I think 1.5% or 2% may have been greeted a little less harshly.

From the other side, the Madison is often an incredibly crowded river, and it is undeniable that a good share of the crowding comes in the form of outfitter drift boats and guided walk-and-wade trips. So, if this helps ease the crowding issue, it may be a good thing in the short-term (I can see some outfitters steering their clients toward the Gallatin next year). I just hope this plan doesn’t put some of the river’s most important advocates out of a job.


  1. The article is a good one but once again people are getting the facts mixed up on this entire issue. The Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks is not implementing the plan, they are only a cooperative agency in the process. This is a BLM plan and it is going into the BLM coffers in the long run. As a Montana Outfitter who is going to be affected by this I have to say that the process has lacked little educated planning and my major concern with the plan is that the money they are going to collect is going to be used for administrative cost and not back to the resource for which it is intended. The BLM managers have used very little common sense and have made the plan much more complicated than it needs to be. The fees are not the problem, it is the buerocratic red tape and lack of forsight by the managers that is the problem. I am not opposed to the fees just the lack of a program that will benefit everyone in the future.

  2. Biggie, thanks for info. I could not tell from the newspaper article who was implementing the plan, but most of the quotes came from FWP, so I assumed it was them. I will adjust the article text to show that BLM is in charge.

  3. Biggie, will these fees cause you to guide less on the Madison next year because a lack of faith in the BLM? Or will you take a wait-and-see approach to how they use the money?

  4. Qdog,
    The price of gas will probably limit my guiding on the Madison more than anything. Paying the fees will get passed onto the clients in a price increase on trips so that really won't make me guide on it less. It may make me use the FW&P accesses more often since I only have to pay my once a year fee of $100 to use their access sites. I do fear that the BLM's plan is going to force more people onto the FW&P access sites though to get around the BLM fees.
    As far as less people on the upper reaches of the river I don't think we will see a noticable difference from the fees either. The Area from the West Fork to McAttee traditionally has been the sections that are used by the West Yellowstone and Henry's Fork guides and I don't think they are going to drive the extra miles to hit the lower access points that don't require the fees. It may keep some of the Ennis, Bozeman and Ruby guides from going higher but I kind of doubt it on a day where the wind is howling in Ennis and calm on the Lyons to Pal stretch.
    I personally lost my faith in the BLM years ago, especially with the lady in charge of the local office. I have volunteered my time and my guides time to cut willows for stream bank stabilization projects on the Lower Madison and developed a relationship with her in doing so. She called me when she was looking at fixing up one of the boat ramps that was not an established ramp and wanted to know if I had any ideas for a ramp that would work. I mentioned that the best thing they could do is grade out the bank and put cement pavers down or pour a cement ramp. She told me they could not do any excavation of the area because it was an archiological site and that they could not put a permanent slab or use any machinery to grade out the ramp. I then told her that they should just put up some fencing or rocks to keep all the trailers using the same slot and not making new ones. She didn't like my ideas and went ahead with spending a fortune to have a ramp built that is now mostly unusable for people with drift boats. It is made out of Steel I beams that are set into the ground with concrete, like deck pilings and has a rased trex deck ramp that is above trailer height. They also poured a cement slab in front of the ramp. You can launch a boat down it but you can't take out because it is to far from the trailer. They originally built the ramp longer but then had to pay a welder to come in and cut the ramp in half because it was way to long. The ramp probably cost the tax payers tens of thousands of dollars and is really unusable for most people. She flat out said that they could not put in pavers or permanent cement slabs and then turned around and put permanent structures in that are unusable. I don't want anyone to think I am a sexist Chauvenist but this lady does what she wants and she loves to spend money to prove her point.
    I am keeping my fingers crossed that we will see improvements in the access's and that the money will be used for the resource but I fear that they will just be used for administrative cost and running of the program. I am trying to be optomistic on the whole thing but it is hard when educated opinions fall on deaf ears.

    I could go on and on but I have said enough about it and want to say thanks again for the new blog to check in on. If you want to you can check out mine are www.biggiesbugs.blogspot.com. I will put a link to your site on my places I visit. Keep in touch and keep up the good writing.

  5. Thanks for the feedback, big, And nice blog. Its always good to get an outfitters point of view on this stuff. Good luck.