WHAT: The Parks Division of Montana FWP recently released a draft management plan for 5,600-acre Fish Creek State Park, which is located on Lower Fish Creek near its confluence with the Clark Fork River in Mineral County. The 35,000-acre Fish Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA) surrounds the park on three sides. Both areas were created two years ago when FWP purchased 41,000 acres from the Nature Conservancy, which had acquired the land from Plum Creek Timber Company. The idea of turning the full acquisition into a wildlife management area was popular with the public. The idea of carving out 5,600 acres to create a state park was the brainchild of former Gov. Schweitzer’s FWP director.
FWP’S PLAN: The draft management plan ignores much of what the public told the Parks Division during a public scoping period last year. Many commenters said the park should be managed primarily for conservation of fish and wildlife because the area is popular with hunters and anglers and it adjoins a WMA.
Fish Creek is a popular recreational fishery, and is the most important tributary of the middle Clark Fork for migratory cutthroat and bull trout. Much of the park is also winter range or critical migratory habitat for other wildlife. TU members and others urged parks staff to keep development to only that which is necessary for protecting resources and existing recreational experiences. However, the plan ignored these sentiments. Among other things, it proposes:
• Constructing a 40-60 unit RV-friendly campground with full hookups, running water and power in the north-central part of the park;
• Building a hut-to-hut trail system with rental yurts and access for hikers, bikers and off-road vehicles;
• Creation of developed “backcountry” campsites that include features such as outhouses;
• Working with economic development interests to attract many more visitors to Fish Creek, especially off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts. At a recent public meeting, the second in command in the Parks Division declared that, “We view Fish Creek State Park as an OHV park.” (OHVs include ATVs, dirt bikes, snowmobiles and other motorized recreational vehicles.); and,
• Charging fees for park facilities, construction of “interpretative” facilities and restricting certain existing public activities, such as dispersed camping and hunting (near park facilities).
THE PROBLEMS: If adopted and implemented, the plan will result in increased fishing pressure on Fish Creek — which is a small, sensitive stream — and harm to watershed integrity, wintering elk and deer, migration of forest carnivores and traditional uses that Montanans have long enjoyed on lower Fish Creek. This development blueprint is being promoted before FWP has even developed a plan for the much larger, adjoining Wildlife Management Area, which will be affected by activities in the park.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Contact FWP’s Parks Division and tell it:
1. Do not finalize a management plan for Fish Creek State Park until the agency has completed a plan for the Fish Creek Wildlife Management Area.
2. Designate the park as a “primitive park,” a designation the Montana Legislature created to protect parks with sensitive natural and cultural values from overdevelopment.
3. DO NOT promote the park as an “OHV park.”
4. Maintain the minimum development necessary to preserve public access for traditional uses, including fishing, hunting and hiking. Any development for camping, picnicking or trails should include minimal site-hardening and developed facilities, and it should minimize costs for operations and maintenance.
Comments due by Jan. 24, 2014. You can comment HERE at the Montana State Parks website.