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Montana news about the environment, natural resources, wildlife, climate change and more.

Floating the river? You may need a license

 People floating in tubes and a paddleboard on the Clark Fork River near Missoula, MT.
Meghan Johnson
Montana Public Radio
People floating in tubes and a paddleboard on the Clark Fork River near Missoula, MT.

Floating is a popular pastime in Montana, and one that used to be free of charge. The state’s newly expanded “conservation license” could change that for some recreationists.

The Sha-Ron Fishing Access Site in East Missoula was bursting with floaters and boaters Sunday afternoon, a scene that plays out nearly every day the sun is out and the temps are hot.

Because of a new state law, floaters at Sha-ron — and anyone who recreates at fishing access sites or in wildlife management areas — must now possess a valid conservation license.

That came as news to floaters Aluna Baquero-Gutzmer and Addy Graybeal.

“So every single person has to have one of those?” Baquero-Gutzmer asked.

“I don’t know, it’s kind of a public place, and everybody’s always floated here, and I don’t think that, really, anyone’s going to follow that,” Graybeal said.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks spokesperson Vivica Crowser said the agency will focus on educating the public about the fee until early next year, after which it will begin enforcing the policy.

“Yeah, it’s definitely a big change, and we realize it’s going to take awhile for people to know that this is a new requirement,” Crowser said.

The yearly licenses cost $8 for adults, $4 for kids and seniors and $10 for nonresidents. Previously, only hunters and anglers had to have a license to recreate on state land. Montana lawmakers expanded the fee this year in order to help Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) keep up on maintenance.

Next spring, FWP will begin issuing warnings for first violations and fines up to $500 for subsequent offenses.

At the East Missoula access site, floater Sam Garetson said he’d already heard about the fee and planned to get a license.

“If people are using it, you should pitch in a little bit,” Garetson said. “I mean, I have no problem paying dues and, like, taxes here. It’s a beautiful state.”

The license now applies to all recreators at more than 330 fishing access sites across Montana, and is not needed in state parks.

You can purchase licenses online at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks’ website.

Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.

He is best reached by emailing
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