The Blackfoot Recreation Plan won’t make a lot of waves for boaters this summer, but it’s ratcheting up efforts to protect the river’s future.
And despite the opinions of some members that their work was ignored, most members of the plan’s citizen’s advisory committee said they were happy with the results. The final version of the plan was released on Tuesday.
“I don’t think the group should be discouraged the draft plan was modified by the agency in light of the public comments,” said committee member Trent Baker, who represented recreational boaters on the river. “We didn’t all share the same views and opinions.”
In particular, Baker said a proposed permit system on popular fishing stretches of the Blackfoot was likely to be a hard sell. The permit plan was a preferred alternative in the December draft of the recreation plan, but removed from the final version.
That angered committee member Jerry O’Connell, who argued Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials abandoned their committee’s long hours for a few public comment.
“We have put over two years of effort and collaborative thinking into this,” O’Connell said. “Of the 70 people who commented about the permit system, only 17 said we don’t want it. Seven were in favor and 46 said we’ve got concerns with it. That tells me we’re in the right direction. But those 2,000 hours (of committee work) were weighed against 17 opinions of ‘we don’t like the document.’ ”
FWP parks administrator Lee Bastian said there were other ways of looking at those comments.
“The majority of those 70 comments were not in support of the proposed permit allocation system,” Bastian said. “It was clear from the Ovando (public meetings) they were very uncomfortable. We often get criticized as an agency that we don’t listen to the public. But this was so overwhelmingly not in support of a permit allocation system.”
The plan will dedicate FWP to gathering lots more data about how people use the popular river east of Missoula. In addition to basic counts of boats and riders, there will reviews of law enforcement calls, public opinion studies and inspections of river environmental health to be considered.
Committee member Tom Facey said he was concerned that the group wasn’t allowed to consider environmental issues, such as requiring barbless hooks or catch-and-release zones. Committee facilitator Charlie Sperry said biological decisions needed to stay in the hands of the agency’s scientific staff. But the two zones did overlap and influence big-picture decisions, he said.
The plan will also study possibilities for riverbank camping in “float-only” stretches of the Blackfoot, and impose a voluntary survey at boat launch sites to get more public input.
“We don’t have to apologize to anybody about trying to put protections on Reach 3 (in the popular fishing area of the river),” Aldrich said. “We played that through as well as we could. I’m glad it got floated out there and now its time to move forward.”
Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at email@example.com.