Summer on America’s longest undammed river—the Yellowstone—is typified by long, lazy floats where cutthroat, browns and ’bows tip skyward toward hoppers, golden stones and caddis. It’s dry-fly season, after all.
But those ideal days came to a crash last week when Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission (FWP) closed a massive 183-mile stretch of the ’Stone between Gardiner and Laurel, Montana. The ongoing all water-based recreation ban also includes sections of popular tributaries, including the Shields, the Boulder and the Stillwater.
FWP’s reaction was in response to a fish kill caused by the spread of Proliferative Kidney Disease, which has the potential to cause 20 to 100 percent mortality in a fish population. Drought, high temperatures, and habitat degradation are all tied to PKD outbreaks. PKD does not pose a risk to humans.
Biologists estimate the total impact on Yellowstone whitefish to be in the hundreds of thousands, so far. FWP has also received reports of the kill beginning to affect some rainbow and Yellowstone cutthroat.
“A threat to the health of Montana’s fish populations is a threat to Montana’s entire outdoor economy and the tens of thousands of jobs it sustains,” added Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, noting that the state’s outdoor recreation economy is responsible for more than 64,000 Montana jobs and nearly $6 billion in yearly economic activity.
Echoing the importance of Montana’s outdoor economy, and underscoring the Yellowstone River’s part in it, in Livingston drift boats were immediately pulled off the river following FWP’s announcement. And local outfitters, including Dan Bailey’s Fly Shop, have been busy making calls and canceling September fishing trips.
Longtime Yellowstone guide Greg Bricker told us he’s had a handful of cancellations since the closure. He and other guides have also been moving trips to the busier than ever Upper Madison.
“I believe the economic impact of this situation is going to be prolonged and very far reaching,” Bricker said. “Everyone from gas stations to the hotels and restaurants are going to feel this, not to mention those of us who are directly tied to the river.”
“I don’t think anyone knows the right thing to do,” shop owner John Bailey told MTN News. “What [FWP has] done I am not against…. What’s it going to take to reopen it? I think that’s going to be the hard part.”
For now, we don’t know when the river will reopen. Until it does, and moving forward, FWP is asking the public to help prevent the spread of PKD by cleaning (CLEAN.DRAIN.DRY) all equipment prior to moving between waterbodies