Thursday, January 12, 2017

Quiet Waters Proposal Going Down in Flames

Well, the public has spoken loud and clear and it seems obvious almost no one in Montana is in support of the proposal from Backcountry Hunters and Anglers to limit motors on certain public waters across the State of Montana. (They also think it's ridiculous to make a rule on a stretch of water that says you can't row back upstream, which I agree.) I attended the Helena public commentary meeting last night with about 60 other folks that were absolutely, 100% opposed to these rule changes. That is, accept the one gentleman that showed up to represent BHA. The Great Falls meeting had around 260 people with a similar, yet more volatile outcome according to reports from the Great Falls Tribune.

This rule change proposal was dead before it had any legs and here's why. It was proposed by a group that not many people knew anything about and would appear to be acting in the interest of a minority of people. That minority of people most folks attributed to this proposal were guides and outfitters. Over and over and over again, the public comment appeared to be anti-rule and anti-guiding community. In fact, one woman's comments that echoed the sentiment from many of the participants of the meeting, flatly called out the outfitters and "big business" for stripping her and her family of their rights to fish the Missouri River. She accused BHA as being staffed by only outfitters and guides and all they were concerned about was their profits. The reality is there isn't a single guide or outfitter on BHA's staff.

The other major problem with the proposal is that no one understood what the rule changes were meant to address. Many of the folks assumed it was because of a safety issue for other recreationists as jet-boats speed past them in tight waters. The problem is, there isn't a whole lot of evidence to support this because there have only been a couple accidents recorded in the past decade or so. Others thought maybe it was a conservation issue and then again, others thought it was just a few selfish guides and outfitters that were driving the bus.

Let me just say for the record, just as much of the guiding community opposes these rule changes as the general public, albeit for different reasons. This proposal is definitely extreme and doesn't take into account a lot of people who use motor boats on certain public waters, where if folks are respectful and considerate of other recreationists, there isn't a problem. However, there are a lot folks out there that don't act responsibly and aren't considerate and it's why proposals like this come up.

The one gentleman from BHA did have a conflict with a jet-boat, as he told of his experience last night, on the Marias River. He and a few friends were out paddling around and a jet-boat raced by them swamping their canoes, not only putting them in danger but also damaging their property. I've heard from many others with similar experiences and I've also had my own encounters that illustrate the fact that people aren't always considerate, which does foster support for change. Unfortunately, we didn't hear from those folks at the meeting in Helena and from the sounds of it, not many of them showed up at the Great Falls meeting either. I did express my sympathy for the folks that support parts of the rule changes but with only having 2 minutes to speak and really being the only person there besides the gentleman from BHA expressing this view, I doubt anything I said was either heard or considered.

The unfortunate truth is nobody wants to hear the other side. We dig our heals in making some pretty outlandish arguments spiraling down with, "Now the general public won't even be able to fish the Missouri," or, "Now all the marinas will go out of business," to the all or nothing sum of, "Then we shouldn't have any boats on the river...", which is one of the big problems with this proposal. It does strike fear into those folks that are animate about not losing their rights and we get to these types of arguments that don't move the issue towards some solution and absolutely don't allow for any kind of compromise. The rule changes were just too heavy and too detrimental to a large group of people and those people spoke, which I guess is how our system works.

Here's the problem: Last year there was about a twenty-five foot cabin cruiser ripping up and down a twenty mile stretch of the Missouri below the Holter Dam. As they sped by anglers, kayakers, and other recreationists, they waved as if they thought everyone was just having the time of their lives and they were the coolest boat on the river, not even considering how disruptive they were being to EVERYONE else trying to enjoy the scenery and the fishing. And quite literally, not understanding the fear they were putting into some of the kids I know that were in their kayaks doing everything they could to just stay upright as the wake from that cabin cruiser slammed into them. I also know a gentleman who actually brags about speeding by guides with his jet-boat, knowing how much it pisses them off and I've personally had a run-in with another outfitter completely destroying a channel I was fishing with clients as he ripped by us sending a wake crashing against the bank causing huge chunks of earth tumbling into the river. It is a problem. It is a safety issue. It is a conservation issue and it is an economic issue as we are potentially destroying what is considered a blue ribbon, or in Montana; a class 1 fishery for those folks who bring millions of dollars of revenue that supports conservation efforts as well as supporting the livelihoods of your neighbors, your grandkids, and your son's and daughters.

I ran into a gentleman last night after the meeting who animatedly opposed these rule changes and I asked him, "If not these rule changes, what is the solution?"

Now believe me, I was not and am not in favor of the rule changes but I also recognize there is a problem so I'm asking all of you that oppose this, what is the solution?

The gentleman last night suggested we need more education to which I agree but what about those folks that know they are causing a problem for others but just don't care? Those people do exist. I realize we want to believe we live in a part of the world that we all want to do the right thing but trust me, I see the folks that don't care and don't do the right thing almost daily in the summer. They are out there and it is a problem so what do we do? Seriously. I'm asking. What is the solution?

Keep 'em where they live...

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