The New Year’s celebrations will barely be cleared when it comes time to celebrate summer with a Smith River permit application.
Floaters hoping to travel Montana’s most sought-after fishing trip better plan for new food policies in the remote drainage. Starting this spring, both the state and U.S. Forest Service campgrounds will require float parties to keep all their food in bear-resistant storage.
“We don’t want people showing up with a rope and saying, ‘I’m going to hang a 70-pound cooler,’ ” Smith River State Park manager Colin Maas said. “The responsibility is on the public to come prepared with proper food storage options.”
The application period to float the 59-mile canyon section of the Smith River opens Monday and runs through Feb. 18. Drawing results will be announced March 3. Parties up to 15 people may float with one permit. Applicants must be a minimum 12 years of age, although there are no age limitations to participate on the float.
Due to increasing black bear activity at the campgrounds between Camp Baker and Eden Bridge, floaters must now bring bear-resistant coolers, use portable electric fencing or hang their food out of scavangers’ reach. Maas said no campgrounds have public bear-resistant lockers or installed hanging posts available.
“We usually get a few kayakers who do more of a backpacking-style trip where they take light stuff,” Maas said. “But you need the right kind of tree with the right branches for that to work. It’s not the easiest thing to do.”
White Sulphur Springs District Ranger Carol Hatfield said the U.S. Forest Service was applying storage standards based on similar circumstances at other public camping areas.
“In recent years, a number of bears obtained food from floaters’ camps, becoming habituated to human food and creating a potential safety hazard for floaters,” Hatfield said in an email. “By preventing bears from developing a taste for human food stemming from a first easily stolen meal from a boat camp, these new rules should improve safety for floaters and help bears to retain their natural fear of humans.”
Maas said some sporting goods stores in Helena were renting bear-resistant storage equipment, and he expected similar offerings should be available in White Sulphur Springs as the season draws nearer.
The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee tests and certifies coolers and boxes for their ability to withstand a grizzly bear’s attention for one hour. Mass said there is no standard for black bears. A complete list of IGBC-approved food storage products is available at bit.ly/1YIa2mF.
About 8,000 people submitted applications for permits last year, and 1,000 were successful. Applicants must list the time period they wish to float, with dates in mid-July being the hardest to win. Weather before July can be unpredictable, while after July water flows drop to difficult levels for larger rafts and boats.
Applicants pay a $10 dollar non-refundable permit application fee. Permit lottery results will be available online at stateparks.mt.gov. Successful applicants will also be notified by mail. Those who receive a permit will pay the appropriate float fees at Camp Baker prior to launching.
In addition to the permit lottery, the public may purchase as many $5 Super Permit chances as they choose. Montana State Parks issues one Super Permit each year through a separate lottery. The recipient of the Super Permit will be allowed to launch on any date of their choosing for that float season.
The opportunity to purchase chances for the Smith River "Super Permit" will be available from Monday through March 17. The Super Permit drawing will be announced March 21.