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Fishin' in the fog on the Bitterroot

Fishermen enjoy a foggy start to the last day of summer on the Bitterroot River. 

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials have decided on the 16-member Bitterroot River Recreation Committee tasked with developing recommendations on how fishing should be managed on the upper Bitterroot River, including the popular West Fork.

The committee will consider the issue of crowding on the popular stretch of river and develop alternatives that could eventually change the way recreation on the river is managed.

The committee members are:

*Jake Mauer, Victor, is an outfitter who serves as a board member of Fishing Outfitters Association of Montana and Bitterroot Trout Unlimited.

*Mark Rogala, Darby, is a West Fork area landowner who built the Flying R Guest Cabins business. He will represent tourism.

*Mark Stermitz, Florence, is a longtime angler who was the first citizen member on the state’s Board of Outfitters and Guides. As an attorney, Stermitz has experience working with different stakeholder groups.

*Larry Hanson, Missoula, is an angler and a retired fisheries biologist who developed regulations on the Klamath River.

*Alec Underwood, Missoula, is a fisherman who serves as a board director for the Westslope Chapter of Trout Unlimited. He works with multiple stakeholders including biologists, landowners and anglers on a regular basis.

*Brian Blackman, Stevensville, is a social worker whose work emphasizes finding common ground in multiple-use situations. He is a member of Trout Unlimited.

*Jim Olson, Hamilton, is a former FWP Commissioner and a current member of the Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association.

*Casey Hackathon, Missoula, is an angler and member of Hellgate Hunters and Anglers and the Montana Watershed Coordination Council.

*Marshall Bloom, Hamilton, is a past president of Bitterroot Trout Unlimited, chairman of Montana Trout Unlimited, co-chair of the Montana Governor’s Whirling Disease Task Force and first chair of the Ravalli County Resource Advisory Committee.

*Jenny West, Hamilton, has been guiding on the Bitterroot River for 15 years. She is currently a member of the Hamilton City Council.

*Sean O’Brien, Hamilton, is an outfitter who has worked on wetlands mitigation projects.

*Andy Carlson, Hamilton, has been an outfitter for 35 years. He has worked with the Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association, helped to implement the Montana Stream Access Law and served on the committee that worked on regulations for Rock Creek.

*Eddie Olwell, Stevensville, has been an outfitter for 17 years. He is the president of the Bitterroot Water Forum and was past president of the Trout Unlimited.

*Fred Upchurch, Stevensville, is chair of Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association’s fish committee.

*Judith Estler, Darby, is a landowner in the West Fork and a member of Trout Unlimited.

*Dave Campbell, Hamilton, is the former district ranger on the Bitterroot Forest’s West Fork Ranger District. He has both wade- and float-fished the West Fork for 25 years.

FWP Fishing Access Site Program Manager Christine Oschell said the committee was selected from a list of 29 well-qualified applicants.

While its membership is heavily weighted toward Ravalli County residents, the department’s mandate requires that it include a broad representation of users, which meant reaching into Missoula for three committee members, Oschell said.

“We know there is a lot of interest in the West Fork and the Bitterroot River in Missoula,” she said.

Once the committee meetings get underway after the first of the year, Oschell hopes that anyone interested in future management of the popular fisheries will come and offer input.

“People need to remember, too, that this is just the first step,” she said. “We’ll take the alternatives developed by the committee and pass on a preferred alternative to the commission. There will be a full environmental analysis completed on that alternative, which will provide the public additional time to comment.”

The meetings will be held in the Bitterroot Valley, but Oschell isn’t completely certain of the location yet.

Government entities, including FWP or the Ravalli County Commission, won’t be sitting at the table. Instead, government representatives will be in attendance to offer information when asked.

The plans call for holding a preliminary meeting sometime in December to allow committee members to introduce themselves. Facilitated meetings will get underway in January.

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