Coalition Calls on Governor Gianforte to Form Cold Water Fisheries Task Force

Today, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper submitted a formal letter signed by a broad coalition of Montana fly fishing, outfitters, and lodges, international fly fishing businesses Orvis and Patagonia, and conservation groups requesting Governor Gianforte immediately create a Cold Water Fisheries Task Force to address the decline of cold water fisheries in the state, particularly in Southwest Montana.

“The combination of drought, heat, pollution, low water, development, and fishing pressure means our cherished cold water fisheries and southwestern Montana waterways are declining by death by a thousand cuts. We coordinated a coalition to call on Governor Gianforte to immediately do more to protect the lifeblood of the state’s $7.1 billion outdoor economy and our way of life – clean and cold water – before it’s too late,” said Guy Alsentzer, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper’s Executive Director.

“Between early season fish kills, unnaturally warm water temperatures, and low trout numbers, it’s an all-hands-on-deck moment. Losing cold water trout fisheries could be a death blow for numerous fishing and river related businesses already reeling from the pandemic if action isn’t taken,” said John Arnold, owner of Headhunters Fly Shop based out of Craig, Montana.

“Maintaining Montana’s cold water fisheries is in everyone’s interest, and the need to protect them for current and future generations is more urgent than ever,” said Simon Perkins, president Orvis.

“Now, more than ever, is the time to take drastic action. Creating a task force is a vital step in bringing parties together in order to preserve and protect Montana’s cold, clean water and the wild fish populations that inhabit them,” said Harris Buddig, Patagonia’s Northern Rockies Sales Representative.

The letter in part states:

“As you know, clean and healthy rivers and vibrant, wild fisheries are part of our unique way of life. They are also critical to Montana’s outdoor economy, which accounts for $7.1 billion in consumer spending and supports more than 71,000 jobs. If water quality in our rivers continues to decline, and our rivers themselves dry up, these negative changes will also tank our state’s robust outdoor economy that directly depends upon vibrant cold water fisheries. During this difficult time recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot ignore the threats to our cold water fisheries that could undermine one of the largest contributors to Montana’s economy. 

We urge the formation of a cross-government, multi-agency task force that would begin an important process of identifying meaningful policy changes, seeking proactive agreements with landowners, and implementing science-based long-term solutions to address the declining health of Montana’s iconic cold water fisheries. We recommend that the Task Force at minimum include representatives from Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce,  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, Region 8 EPA, local governments, tribal governments, conservation districts, fly fishing businesses, agricultural groups, watershed groups and conservation groups.”

Read the full letter here.

The letter follows rapidly deteriorating conditions caused by climate change related heat and drought that have spiked water temperatures and combined with increased pollution and nutrients from development, leading to early season algal blooms in many rivers and waterways. Trout deaths and die-offs have occurred even before the typically drier, lower water, and warmer summer months of August and early September. An Upper Missouri River Sub-Basin report paints a grim picture for months ahead.

While Fish, Wildlife, and Parks has instituted several hoot owl restrictions and recommended handling fish with care, additional fish deaths continue to be reported

After Governor Gianforte declared that Montana was open for business earlier this spring on the famed stretch of the Missouri River outside of Craig, Montana, the broad coalition is hopeful that the letter will result in the administration taking immediate action. 

Additional statements from signees:

Southwest Montana’s rivers are in the midst of a crisis that is already having a devastating impact on our fisheries and on the businesses that depend on those fisheries remaining in good shape, especially at the height of the tourist season. It’s absolutely imperative that we address this crisis now so that we can begin mitigation as soon as possible, and the most effective way to do that is through collaboration among the many interests involved. Our trout populations are at stake, and so is the livelihood of thousands of Montanans. Business as usual is simply not an option. Emily Cleveland, Wild Montana’s conservation director. 

Montana’s wild trout fisheries are world renown. Our blue ribbon ribbons are a source of pride for residents and an attraction for visitors from around the globe. These fisheries are also vital to our thriving multi billion dollar tourism economy. We need to recognize just how important these cold water fisheries are to both our economy and our way of life as Montanans and begin working on solutions that can safeguard them into the future. Brian McGeehan, Montana Angler.