OPINION: Speak up to defend your river access

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All recreationists, fishermen, hunters, boaters and all businesses that deal with recreation and tourism need to be aware of an initiative in the works that could change the Flatheadís waterway uses.

The Quiet Waters Initiative is a proposal that was given tentative approval by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Although at first glance it sounds like a harmless proposal, donít be fooled, it is not. It was written by the Back Country Hunters and Anglers, the same group that recently got the Whitefish River shut down for all motorized boats. They have a great name and sound like someone we would trust to make decisions about recreating. The reality is they are a green group, funded by out-of-state backers, and if they had their way we would live like Lewis and Clark, have no modern conveniences, and paddle around in birch-bark canoes. Donít take my word for it, go to the website of Green Decoys; they peel back the layers on groups and show where the money comes from and what they do with it. The Back Country Hunters and Anglers are well funded and always on the look out to deprive us outdoorsmen of liberties we enjoy, especially when it doesnít conform to THEIR model. (Sound all too familiar?)

The initiative covers most of the state and most major waterways. Here in the Flathead they propose no personal watercraft from the Montana 35 bridge up the Flathead and none on the Whitefish or Stillwater rivers, I do not have a personal watercraft but a lot of folks do, and there are five or six boat dealers in the area that feed their families by selling and servicing them. I also believe that when tourists, prospective future homeowners, etc., make their summer plans, and they hear of these (real or rumored) restrictions, they will look at Idaho or Washington or elsewhere. The impact this could have on our growing tourism-based economy could be disastrous, all for a perceived problem. There are already strict rules on the use of personal watercraft, and even when we are in out trusty old pontoon boat in the lower Flathead and they go buzzing by, they donít bother us. To each their own.

Another part of the proposal is the decibel restrictions. They want the noise levels to be less than 75 decibels. They are vague here and donít say from how far away or from the shoreline or what. You can look up decibel charts and will see that a diesel truck running at 40 mph creates 80 decibels, a lawnmower 80 decibels, and almost all outboard motors under power are at 100, even 4 strokes. Next comes ďno wakeĒ proposals in the river, which means it would be almost impossible to travel up the river in any kind of motorized craft since the power it takes to propel you upstream will create a wake. So if you have a small boat, and fish, duck hunt, trap or even like us with a quiet pontoon, going upstream wouldnít be possible in parts of the river.

I would like to call attention to this initiative before itís too late. As I said the Fish and Wildlife Commission has tentatively approved it, and we have until Jan. 13 to have our voices heard. The local head of Region 1 fisheries and the captain of the game wardens have testified against the proposal, and it was approved anyway. A group of 30 of us concerned citizens were able to pass our thoughts along at a conference meeting with the entire commission a few weeks ago; we did it at the Fish, Wildlife and Parks office in Kalispell. The committee was shocked to see so many of us there and listened to our grievances. Not one man or woman who attended was for the proposal. The whole gamut was covered from retired folks that lived on the river and had no complaints of noise from boats, to a family that fishes the river with young children in a small boat with a motor. We also had business owners there that talked about the economic impact it could have, especially since the local chambers and businesses have worked so hard to bring tourists to the valley. We had folks that were born and raised here, and live in the Flathead because of the diversity of the outdoors, who are tired of getting their freedoms taken away.

Anyway, at the end of the conference, the commissioners said they had no idea it was such a far-reaching proposal and with enough public comment they would consider changes. Submit comments to: Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Attn: Quiet Waters Petition, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, Montana, 59620-0701; or e-mail QuietWaters@mt.gov. Comments must be received no later than Jan. 13.

There are meetings around the state open for public comment as well. In the Flathead, it is at the Region 1 headquarters, 490 N. Meridian Road, at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 3. We told the region 1 supervisors to expect 200-300 people so letís show up and show our opposition to this initiative. If you have no internet, you can al;so go to the Region 1 headquarters and fill out a paper form. Letís make sure to get ahold of all of the part-time property owners that arenít even here this time of year (coincidence?). The Eagle Bend and Bigfork Yacht harbor members and all other boat slip users and property owners around the lake need to know whatís going on because it will affect them also.

I feel strongly about this and being a lifelong Flathead resident, have already seen many freedoms taken from us in the last 50 years. I believe this is the tip of the iceberg. Once this gets passed whatís next? We donít need special interest groups telling us what is good for us.

Weed is a resident of Kalispell.

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