The so-called Quiet Waters Initiative — a slew of proposals that could redefine recreation on some Montana rivers and streams — rocked the boat at the first of several public hearings this week hosted by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
The agency is taking comment on nearly 30 proposed regulation changes that would limit horsepower, set seasonal restrictions and outright ban motorized watercraft along some rivers and stream segments that feed into the Clark Fork, Flathead, Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers.
"We don't want to enact major changes for current users," says John Sullivan.
Sullivan is the chairman of the Montana chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, a national sportsman’s advocacy group headquartered in Missoula. Backcountry Hunters and Anglers proposed the rule changes last March to Fish, Wildlife and Parks. FWP commissioners will ultimately decide if the suggestions are adopted, amended or rejected.
"With the impact on our water resources, with population growth and advancing technology and different types of watercraft, we have to start thinking about the future and how these waterways are used and the type of impact we want to have on them," says Sullivan. "Quiet Waters is exactly that."
Sullivan says his group proposed Quiet Waters after surveying 800 of its members and inventorying current regulations on Montana’s rivers. They found that new technologies, like stand up paddle boards outfitted with motors, allow motorized watercraft to navigate streams previously thought to be reachable only by paddle.
Recreation on Montana’s rivers is changing, and regulations haven’t caught up yet. It’s already causing conflict. FWP says it regularly receives complaints between paddlers and motorized boaters.
Jeff Lukas, also with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers in Missoula, says Quiet Waters is meant to nip those conflicts in the bud.
"The idea is to create conditions where less conflict occurs between user groups," says Lukas. "We feel it's a pretty conservative, common sense proposal."
But people attending the first public hearing in Kalispell Tuesday night didn’t see it that way. More than 30 people voiced deep concern over the impact the rule changes would spell for local businesses and recreationists.
"My name is Pete Jellar. I'm a local tackle maker, I have a business here...this will greatly affect my business."
"My name is Warren Illi...the proposed rule is a solution to a problem that does not exist."
"Hank Hoyt. They get this through, then what do they get next? And like everybody's saying, it's going to close off everything to everybody. So I am definitely opposed to this."
"My name is Richard Lamar, and I've hunted and fished in Montana for over 50 years, and from what I can see here, this isn't a management issue here, it's a control issue."
The only commenter in Kalispell to express tentative support for some form of updated boating regulations was Henry Oldenburg.
"I stand here as the chicken at the hawk's convention," says Oldenburg.
Oldenburg is a fifth generation Montanan living on the lower reach of the Flathead River.
"In the last five years, these loud speakers on the boats have driven away the loons that nested on my slough inside from the river for the last 70 years," Oldenburg says. "They've driven away the river otter, the beaver and you don't get the geese nesting on the banks like they used to."
Oldenburg said he’s also concerned about riverbank erosion caused by motorized watercraft, but added if people were more caring while boating, this type of meeting wouldn’t be necessary.
Quiet Waters may have had a rough reception in Kalispell, but Jeff Lukas, with Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, says people are now talking about what they want Montana’s rivers to look and sound like in the future, and that’s kind of the point.
"This is a conversation starter," says Lukas. "We’re not about taking away existing opportunities. We just want to make sure that everybody's experience is the optimal experience."
FWP is hosting public hearings this and next week in Missoula, Bozeman, Billings, Great Falls and Helena to accept comments on the proposed regulation changes. They’ll be considered by FWP commissioners before they vote to adopt, reject or amend the petition. FWP has extended the comment period through February 12.
Public hearings will be held :
- Jan. 3 at 6:00 p.m. at the FWP Region 1 office, 490 N. Meridian Road, Kalispell
- Jan. 4 at 6:00 p.m. at the FWP Region 2 office, 3201 Spurgin Road, Missoula
- Jan. 5 6:00 p.m. at the FWP Region 3 office, 1400 S. 19th Ave., Bozeman
- Jan. 9 at 6:00 p.m. at the FWP Region 5 office, 2300 Lake Elmo Drive, Billings
- Jan. 11 at 6:00 p.m. at the FWP Region 4 office, 4600 Giant Springs Road, Great Falls
- Jan. 11 at 6:00 p.m. at the FWP headquarters office, 1420 E. 6th Ave., Hel