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Fishing access sites coud be sold, traded
By Perry Backus of The Montana Standard, 01/20/2003

Anglers will have a chance this week to learn the facts about Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks' efforts to identify fishing access sites that could be traded or sold.

Region 3 Supervisor Pat Flowers will be on hand at the Skyline Sportsmen Association's regular meeting Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the War Bonnet Inn. The meeting is open to the public.

Flowers will provide information about fishing access sites, or portions of those sites, that have been identi fied as potential areas to be traded or sold.

We were initially upset about talk of selling those fishing access sites,'' said Skyline President Tom Bugni. "We sportsmen paid for them ourselves.''

Since the word first leaked out that the state might be considering selling access sites, Bugni said the associa tion learned FWP officials are recommending that only portions of the sites be considered for disposal.

And, for the most part, they are talking about trading them to federal land agencies, like the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

"As long as they go into public hands, we have no problem with that,'' he said. "We were initially worried they might turn around and sell them to the highest bidder, and we'd find our selves with huge mansions along our rivers.

"We did get a little excited about that,'' said Bugni.

Flowers said the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission asked the agency to evaluate the stateowned fishing access sites to ensure they are meeting the mission of the program.

"When we purchased some of these sites, sometimes it was a mixed bag,'' Flowers said. "Sometimes the sellers would only agree to sell the property if we purchased the entire parcel, when really we only needed say two acres to meet our needs.''

The areas identified by the department for disposal did not provide any access or hunting opportunity, said Flowers. And they weren't needed for the protection of the fishing access site, he said.

Often, the department rec ommended the only way the land could change ownership would be for FWP to trade them to a federal agency, like the Forest Service or the BLM, Flowers said.

"At this point, the commis sion hasn't followed up on our recommendations,'' said Flowers. "I'm not sure they will. '85 we did develop a pret ty lengthy list. We took it seriously, and we did take a long hard look at what we had.''

State Fisheries biologist Dick Oswald of Dillon said studied the access sites with in his realm of management before offering his recommendations.

For instance, Oswald recommended that the state could give up the Corrals Fishing Access Site on the Beaverhead River. The site is leased from the Montana Department of Transportation.

"Can you tell me where it's at? I doubt it. Virtually no one knows where it is,'' he said. "There's no boat launch there, and there's ample access all around it.''

Oswald said other places also made management sense for the department to trade to federal land management agencies whose lands surrounded the sites.

Browne's Lake near Glen is a good example, he said. The lake is the only one in the Pioneer Mountain range sur rounded by property owned by FWP. It just doesn't make sense for the state to retain ownership when it can relin quish that to the Forest Service, he said.

"We're not giving away any fishing access sites,'' Oswald said. "Anything but.''

Used with permission of the Montana Standard.

FWP will protect fishing access
By Pat Flowers, 04/16/2003

(Editor's Note - Pat Flowers is Region 3 supervisor for the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. He is responding to a recent Bozeman Daily Chronicle editorial, reprinted here, that questioned the sale of fishing access sites.)

There has recently been legitimate concern raised about Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park's review of fishing access sites for possible disposal. The gist of the concern is that public access to our waterways is getting tougher and tougher to come by and we should not contemplate the disposal of any public access. I can appreciate the anxiety felt by fishing access site users, and I want to provide some reassurance.

We at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks do not intend to dispose of any fishing access sites or portions of sites that provide for valuable public access and recreation. We recognize the critical importance of public access and recreation. Over the past several decades we have managed to assemble nearly 100 fishing access sites on the waters in southwestern Montana. These sites provide exceptional opportunities for boaters, wade-anglers, hikers, picnickers and hunters. Their value has grown as our rivers have become increasingly popular and as riverfront real estate has been developed.

Along with the growing popularity of our fishing access sites comes a substantial increase in management needs and cost. These costs include the expense of routine maintenance, as well as noxious weed control, repair of vandalized facilities, and disposal of garbage that is dumped on some of our sites. We obviously don't have unlimited budgets and continually review our maintenance priorities. As an addition to our normal review of budget priorities for maintenance, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission thought it made sense to review our land base and make sure that we are putting our limited maintenance dollars into properties that were providing useful public access and recreation.

We completed a comprehensive review of all of our fishing access sites and found there were some sites or portions of sites that were not providing public access or recreation opportunities. Our next step is to select which of those sites should be formally considered for disposal. That formal process will involve an environmental review and full public involvement for every individual site that we pursue for disposal.

There are a couple of important caveats that we will apply to all the sites or portions of sites that we may consider for disposal. One-half of the 16 sites considered for disposal were purchased with federal dollars, and, therefore would require us to find replacement properties of equal recreation value before we could complete any disposal. In other words, we may have the opportunity to dispose of some property that's providing very little access or recreation value and replace it with extremely valuable access property.

For many of the sites on our potential disposal list we intend to limit our disposal options to only a trade with the adjacent public landowners, such as the USDA Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management. Such a trade would obviously require the interest of these adjacent federal owners, and at this point we have not approached our federal neighbors to discuss the exchange of any of these properties. If we trade with a federal agency, public access will be maintained but under Federal ownership rather than state.

Once again, we do not intend to dispose of any fishing access sites that offer valuable access or recreation opportunity. We won't pursue disposal of a site unless the associated reduction in maintenance costs or tradeoff opportunity for other access properties is enough to make it worth the effort. Rest assured, we will continue to preserve and pursue valuable public access to hunting and fishing opportunities as one of our highest management priorities.

Used with permission of the Montana Standard.

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