Conservation Groups, Fishing Businesses, and Montanans Ask Governor to Prioritize Cold Water Fisheries

Gianforte’s Failure to Act and Forecast For Hot, Dry Summer Doesn’t Bode Well For Montana’s Wild Trout Fisheries

Today, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, the Montana Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, a broad coalition of fly fishing businesses, conservation organizations, and 875 citizens submitted a petition to Governor Gianforte, again, requesting the administration assemble a multi-agency, interdisciplinary Cold Water Fisheries Task Force to address the challenges facing Montana’s cold water fisheries. 

“Montana’s world-class waterways and blue-ribbon fisheries deserve special attention. They are the lifeblood of our outdoor economy, recreation lifestyles, and the source of drinking water for thousands of Montanans,” said Guy Alsentzer, Executive Director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper. “It’s unnerving that Governor Gianforte’s office has thus far failed to use the available tools and resources to build resiliency and protect our rivers from further degradation.”

“Working together with elected government is an important part of the conservation process. Montana BHA hopes that Gov. Gianforte will respond proactively to our worsening water situation in order to save our world-class trout fisheries that bring in hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue all over the state,” said Graham Coppes, Montana BHA Conservation Leader. “It is high time for Montana to take control of its water future and take strong action to ensure that our cold-water fisheries continue to be the envy of the world.  Creating a task force to address the well-documented and ongoing demise of our trout fisheries is an obvious first step.”

Last summer, a smaller group sent a similar letter to the Governor concerning the troubling conditions and challenges facing the waterways in southwest Montana and urging the formation of a task force to focus exclusively on protecting and preserving cold water fisheries, water quality, and wild salmonid populations. After ten months Gov. Gianforte has yet to respond to the request and has failed to take proactive steps to protect Montana’s cold water fisheries. The Gianforte administration even refused and blocked Fish, Wildlife, and Parks’ (FWP) effort to invoke Murphy Rights last summer as many streams and rivers ran desperately low.

As the 2022 fishing season kicks off, Montana’s waterways are likely to face similar, if not greater, challenges with low reservoirs, widespread drought conditions, a hot and dry summer forecast, and persistent algal blooms. The immediate formation of a task force including representatives from state natural resource agencies, federal agencies, local governments, tribal governments, agricultural groups, conservation groups, and fly fishing businesses could focus efforts on meaningful policy changes, proactive agreements with landowners, and science-based, long-term solutions for sustaining waterway and fishery health. 

Additional questions the coalition has for the administration include: 

  • Will Gov. Gianforte allow FWP to invoke Murphy Rights this summer;
  • Is the public trust – maintaining minimum stream flows – and cold-water fisheries a consideration and priority in the ongoing drought management plan update; and
  • What educational programs and sustainable fishing practices will be encouraged by the Gianforte administration to further protect Montana’s cold water fisheries?

May 25, 2022