Montana fish and wildlife commissioners are willing to consider a possible compromise that would limit a section of Whitefish River to electric motors and manually powered watercraft during the summer.
The state’s Fish and Wildlife Commission voted Thursday to amend the proposal notice and extend the public comment period seeking input on a seasonal closure, instead of a year-round shutdown, for motorized watercraft between the river’s confluence at Whitefish Lake to the trestle bridge at JP Road. The new proposal also calls for amending the current no-wake restriction to include “or minimum operating speed necessary to progress upstream.”
At its regular meeting in Helena, the commission considered potentially closing off motorized access for a three-mile stretch of river, a proposal recommended by the City of Whitefish but split evenly among the public. The state received more than 200 written and oral comments during the statewide public scoping period — 105 were opposed and 104 were in favor of restricting part of the river to non-motorized boats. At a public hearing in Whitefish, local opinion swayed heavily in favor of limiting access, with 35 supporters and six opponents.
Instead of closing off the river permanently, local officials with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks proposed a seasonal closure from July 5-Sept. 30. This would allow anglers the opportunity to fish in the spring and boaters to access the lake to watch fireworks on the Fourth of July, while at the same time providing the warm summer months for non-motorized use when the majority of users engage in these activities, according to a staff memo submitted to the commission.
In other action at Thursday’s meeting, the commissioners authorized FWP to pursue the acquisition of two small parcels of land bordering the south side of Pine Grove Pond on the Whitefish River and the potential donation of additional land for parking.
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