Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the University of Montana, the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service are teaming up on a research study that will look at river use and recreationist experience on the Blackfoot, Bitterroot, and West Fork of the Bitterroot Rivers.
The study aims to collect data on when and where river use is occurring and at what level. Researchers will also look at whether river users are satisfied with their recreation experience and where they are looking for improvement.
FWP’s Fishing Access Site Manager, Chet Crowser, says that the information collected will form a foundation of recreation use data for multiple rivers in west-central Montana and help improve agency efforts to manage them for the public.
University of Montana researchers developed survey methods and questions based on agency input and information needs.
“The University is excited to work with local agencies on a project that will help us answer questions about recreation on our nearby rivers,” says Libby Metcalf, UM Assistant Professor in the Department of Society & Conservation. “We are trying to take a more comprehensive look at recreation on these rivers, and it is especially great when we have the opportunity to help answer research questions within our western Montana community.”
Recreationists will notice “self-registration” boxes placed at all FWP access sites on the Blackfoot and Bitterroot Rivers and Forest Service sites on the West Fork of the Bitterroot. These boxes contain cards with questions about the stretch of river floated, group size and river experience.
On the Blackfoot, the self-registration system has already been in place for three summers. This year’s research will build on that ongoing effort by expanding self-registration to the Bitterroot River access sites, including the West Fork, and adding an in-person survey component to help validate this self-registration data.
Recreationists can expect to see researchers administering surveys at Blackfoot and West Fork Bitterroot River access sites on randomly selected days throughout the busy summer float season. These FWP and USFS employees will be surveying commercial and non-commercial boaters as they take their boats off the river to collect information on their float experience, when and where they floated and how many were in their group.
The surveys, Crowser says, are confidential and voluntary. Surveys begin this month and will continue throughout most of the summer.
“We understand that time is sometimes limited when ending a river trip, but the surveys will only take a few minutes, and we really encourage boaters to participate,” Crowser says.
Metcalf and a crew of researchers at UM will analyze the data over the fall and winter months, and results from the efforts will likely be available next spring.
For questions, contact FWP at 406-542-5500.