Madison Scoping Meeting, W. Yellowstone

Think of a ‘town meeting’ from a few years back: speakers interrupted, assertive, critical questions, a general feeling of distrust and anxious doubt. That was the early mood during the third FWP scoping meeting held last night in West Yellowstone.

A standing-room-only crowd peppered Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks employees Travis Horton, Charlie Sperry, and Cheryl Morris with a mix of short, pointed queries or long, rambling comments that, at times, were difficult to follow.

Horton had spent the morning at Montana State University in Bozeman lecturing for a couple hours before gathering his meeting materials and heading to W. Yellowstone, so he was almost ‘talked out’. Sperry interceded several times to quietly quash the more aggressive speakers and kept the meeting rolling. Morris politely discussed the status and future of the ’3 Dollar Bridge’ access on the upper Madison during a brief, multi-participant, machine-gun Q and A session. The FWP trio kept their cool in spite of a few hard-nosed commentators.

Similar to the Ennis and Bozeman meetings, outfitters and business owners wondered aloud about the effect of possible social controls on the Madison. Several folks inquired about PPL-Montana’s Hebgen Dam flow regime, algae blooms, repair schedule and participation in this process. Short answer: because the river recreation management rules focus solely on social issues, PPL will not be represented.

Horton has noted the use of fishing regulations as social controls, namely, the ban on fishing from boats in certain stretches to allow increased walk-wade fishing. Some history of the adoption of these regulations led to suggestions to open sections currently closed to float angling to relieve pressure elsewhere on the upper river system.

One commenter compressed the evening’s various points of view into a simple list: Fix the (Hebgen) dam, increase summer flows, leave outfitters alone, keep the ‘tubers safe on the lower river, and let anglers work out fishing pressure without department intervention.

Given West Yellowstone’s history of troubled businesses responding to winter snowmobile controls in Yellowstone National Park, this hands-off manifesto certainly echos a familiar “less is better” stance on government that led to recent history’s disruptive town meetings. Deja vu, all over again . . .

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