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FWP to repeal rule requiring liaison with nonprofits

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FWP to repeal rule requiring liaison with nonprofits


Laura Lundquist

(Missoula Current) Partly due to an ongoing lawsuit, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wants to eliminate a decades-old rule requiring the department to consult with citizen organizations on its projects and responsibilities.

On Friday, FWP will take verbal comment on the elimination of a rule that requires the department to maintain liaison with citizen organizations active in wildlife and sportsmen’s issues.

Written in 1976, the rule says staff will participate formally or informally with various groups, including “Montana Wildlife Federation, Montana Wilderness Association, Audubon Society, Ducks Unlimited, Trout Unlimited, Sierra Club, Environmental Information Center, Northern Rockies Action Group, various state and local outfitter and guide organizations, local unaffiliated rod and gun clubs, or any other citizen organization.”

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The Feb. 8 release announcing Friday’s meeting said FWP wants to repeal the rule, because “it is archaic and no longer reflects how the commission or the department engages with the public in decision-making processes.”

At first blush, the repeal might appear to be an attempt to reduce public participation in the department’s decisions.

Jim Vashro, a retired FWP regional fisheries manager, said FWP manages a public trust – wildlife – for all citizens, so it needs all the communication tools it can get. He sees the rule as important to maintaining the exchange of ideas with the various groups and building understanding and support for proposals from both sides.

“It’s critical that (FWP staff) engage with the people who use the resource,” Vashro said. “Communication is always key. The department would probably still do communication (if the rule is repealed), but it’s nice having that ARM rule just in case something happens.”

During the past few years, there have been several examples of proposals that the department had to walk back because it didn’t ask for input from sportsmen first. For example, the commission had to reverse a 2022 decision to put a daily limit on the number of kokanee caught in Georgetown Lake after fishermen protested.

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Another example was when hunters pushed back against a December 2021 proposal to reduce by half the number of special either-sex elk permits and restrict them to public land in eight elk districts in eastern Montana that are over population objectives. During the commission meeting, more than 40 hunters from various groups spoke against the proposal, which many suspected had a connection to the United Property Owners of Montana, a small but deep-pocketed private-property-rights group.

Some concerns about limited public information and input were validated when, during an October 2023 court settlement of a lawsuit alleging that the FWP commission lacked transparency, FWP attorneys acknowledged that the commission’s secretive practices constituted constitutional violations of public participation and the public’s right to know.

The final decree required the commission to attend training on open-meeting laws, post all public comments on proposals, and use only public-issued email addresses and telephones for commission business.

“It just shows that people care about how decisions are made. Without the rule, (FWP) could merely listen to one group, just make a decision, and there’d be no recourse for the other groups,” Vashro said. “Now I agree that, more and more, they use online resources, and in many cases, that’s a good way to meet. But it doesn’t promote good conversation – it’s kind of a one-sided deal.”

But some sportsmen’s groups are not so sure that the rule is still needed. Some say that the rule doesn’t keep FWP from listening to just one group. And now, there are so many more organizations and diverse demands in Montana than what existed in 1976 that interacting with them all is almost impossible. But one group in particular has complained that FWP violated the rule because it hasn’t interacted with them: the United Property Owners of Montana.

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Following the previously mentioned December 2021 meeting where resident hunters helped defeat the elk tag proposal, the United Property Owners of Montana sued FWP and the FWP commission in April 2022. They alleged that FWP has failed to keep the elk population under control and that the FWP commission made an unlawful decision in February 2022 when it voted to maintain a limit on the number of hunting permits in nine eastern Montana hunting districts, all of which surround the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.

In June 2022, a coalition of Montana hunting and conservation groups filed to intervene on behalf of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks against the United Property Owners of Montana. The coalition includes Missoula’s Hellgate Hunters and Anglers, Helena Hunters and Anglers, Montana Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Montana Bowhunters Association, Montana Wildlife Federation, Public Land Water Access Association and Skyline Sportsmen.

The case has moved slowly since then, although oral arguments are finally slated for the end of the month in Fergus County. One of the claims that the United Property Owners of Montana has made in the lawsuit is that FWP staff have never attended one of their meetings, therefore it violated the rule.

If the rule is repealed, that claim becomes moot. And it avoids the risk that other groups would challenge the department with similar claims. Some sportsmen see value in that and dismiss concerns about any loss of communication, saying that groups can still reach out to department staff or submit public comments, as long as FWP adheres to Montana’s public participation laws. Only time would tell if the department or Montanans would notice a difference.

FWP did not respond to requests for comment. FWP paralegal Regina Reynolds has been scheduled to conduct the online hearing on Friday at 10 a.m.  FWP will accept written comments until March 25.

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Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at lundquist@missoulacurrent.com.





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Montana

Chris La Tray, Montana poet laureate, to speak at Bozeman Public Library 

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Chris La Tray, Montana poet laureate, to speak at Bozeman Public Library 


EBS STAFF 

Chris La Tray, Métis storyteller and Montana Poet Laureate, will speak with Montana Conversations at the Bozeman Public Library on April 22, at 6 p.m. Humanities Montana funds Montana Conversations, a program that brings trained facilitators across the state to conduct workshops and conversations on current affairs, culture and history.

“Whether as words on a page or shared orally, poetry becomes another means for telling and sharing stories; La Tray’s programs exist to remind people that their stories matter, that they are the only ones who can properly tell them, and that poetry, however it is defined, is a beautiful means for doing so,” BPL’s website says of La Tray. 

La Tray has authored “Short Poems and Essays from the World at Large.” His latest book, “Becoming Little Shell” is published by Milkweed Editions. La Tray is an enrolled member of the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians. Read more about the event at BPL’s website.

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A plague of private ponds – the latest threat to Montana's fish and rivers • Daily Montanan

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A plague of private ponds – the latest threat to Montana's fish and rivers • Daily Montanan


Most Montanans would be surprised to hear there are more than 10,000 private ponds across our state — a state which is internationally known for its sparkling rivers and wild trout fisheries. One might also wonder why Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is approving 200 more private ponds every year  one a day for each working day at the agency. 

Yet, those numbers are real as related to a legislative interim committee by Eileen Ryce, the Department’s Fisheries Division Administrator whose job is to regulate the ponds and, more importantly, what fish get put in those ponds.  

But it’s tough to regulate when there are hardly any regulations — and when it comes to importing fish for private ponds, Montana’s regulatory structure barely exists.  It’s so bad Ryce is justifiably worried that tragedies will ensue as people have fish and the water they’re in shipped in from hatcheries all across the nation — and that happens more than a hundred times a year, not counting illegal shipments.

Simply put, hatcheries are designed for exactly one purpose – to grow as many fish as possible in as quickly as possible.  And therein lies the rub.  Because hatcheries concentrate far more fish into far less space than any natural river, lake, or stream, they have significant problems with diseases.

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Montanans who have been around for awhile will recall the outbreak of whirling disease on Montana’s Upper Madison River a few decades back that wiped out the rainbow trout.  But few know that Montana frequently received both fish and eggs from Colorado hatcheries, where biologists knew their hatcheries had whirling disease but believed it was a “hatchery disease” that wouldn’t survive in the wild.  

Not only did they continue to plant numerous streams and rivers in Colorado with diseased fish, Montana routinely received both fish and eggs from Colorado hatcheries and planted them in Montana’s waters — including Hebgen Lake, which is directly upstream from the Upper Madison. Just coincidence?  Hardly.  

So when it comes to private parties buying fish to stock their ponds from out-of-state hatcheries, the chance for diseases such as whirling, or any number of diseases common to hatcheries, is far from minimal.  According to the regulations, those hatcheries only have to be inspected annually and Montana’s private ponds get a license for 10 years between inspections. 

Disease, however, is only one of the threats.  The other is illegal introduction of species that are not allowed in Montana and are wholly inappropriate to be located near or in the flood plains of our major rivers.  Yes, in the floodplain — and Fish, Wildlife and Parks is indeed approving private ponds located in the flood plain, as well as outflows and groundwater connected to streams and rivers. 

It would be great to say Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is so competent that none of these threats will materialize.  But one only need to look at the agency’s introduction of mycis shrimp into Flathead Lake that wiped out the once abundant salmon fishery and completely changed the aquatic ecosystem to prove that assumption false.

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Agencies make mistakes — and they make a lot more when they don’t even have adequate regulations to follow.  Approving “a pond a day” basically ensures Montana’s world-famous rivers will be plagued by disease and illegal species introductions — and in this case, forewarned is not forearmed.  

So what can we do?  Fish, Wildlife and Parks should put a moratorium on new private pond approvals until a realistic and workable regulatory structure is in place.  After all, what’s the rush?  There are plenty of rivers and lakes to fish, so why risk the potential for disaster?



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'Dramatically change the industry': Billings developer soon to start on first 3D-printed home in Montana

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'Dramatically change the industry': Billings developer soon to start on first 3D-printed home in Montana


BILLINGS — Tim Stark has been reimagining the way people think about construction for years and now his company, Bespoke of Montana, will soon begin 3D-printing a duplex on Sioux Lane in Billings Heights.

“It’s a cool opportunity for Montana to be at the forefront of something that’s going to dramatically change the industry. Not only here but across the nation,” Stark said on Thursday. “We can’t keep doing what we’ve always done and expect different results, so we’re going to have to try something new.”

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Stark is using a 3D printer to build homes faster. He and his company have been working on this plan for years, becoming the first to gain the state’s approval to build a home with 3D walls in 2022. They now just need the printer to arrive from Dubai to get started.

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'Dramatically change the industry': Billings developer soon to start on first 3D-printed home in Montana

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“We’re trying to find out how we can build something that will last longer than these (previously built apartments) and perform better than what we’ve conventionally built in the past,” Stark said.

Bespoke of Montana was approached by HomeFront to build them the 3D home as a way to build homes more quickly. The home will be printed across the street from where man camps from Williston, North Dakota, will be recycled and reused to create apartment buildings.

“I am a native Montanan and it always seems that Montana is a few years behind the rest of the country if not the world, and in this particular case, we’re actually at the forefront of it,” Shannon Johnson, Bespoke of Montana’s director of operations, said. “We have really been spending a lot of hours making sure that we’ve got all of the pieces laid out exactly the way that we need to.”

'Dramatically change the industry': Billings developer soon to start on first 3D-printed home in Montana

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Stark plans to start printing sometime this summer.

“I anticipate somebody would get to spend Christmas in here this year,” Stark said.

Billings developer one step closer to bringing 3D-printed homes to town





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