Boat launch

Rafts crowd a fishing access site on the Yellowstone River in 2017. A new site was approved about 10 miles downstream from this Highway 89 bridge site.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks will pay the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation $133,700 for a permanent easement at Dailey Lake in the Paradise Valley.

The purchase, approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission during its Thursday meeting in Helena, would apply to 26.74-acres. That is only a portion of a larger 122-acre DNRC property along the shore of the 364-acre lake located about 35 miles south of Livingston. The smaller parcel includes an FWP campground, boat launch and dock.

FWP had been leasing the property at an annual rate, but that price was set to increase after DNRC appraised the entire parcel at $490,000. The new valuation would have jumped FWP’s lease from $8,870 to $19,611 for the first year and then escalate annually to $23,437 over the next 10 years.

“The rest would still belong to DNRC and the public would have access to it,” said Eileen Ryce, administrator of the Fisheries Division.

“This is a growing trend,” said Nick Gevock, conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation. “It’s a good use for hunter and angler dollars.”

Gevock noted that a bill working its way through the Legislature would make a similar easement purchase along the western shore of Flathead Lake, calling it a “good trend.”

In other action the commission approved two new fishing access sites along the Yellowstone River, pending negotiations with Montana Rail Link.

New fishing access site

A new fishing access site is being proposed on the Yellowstone River next to this BNSF bridge.

The Pig Farm FAS is a publicly pioneered site on Montana Department of Transportation land 13 miles downstream from Livingston.

“The next upstream public access site is Sheep Mountain FAS,” according to the commission’s agenda item. “Silt deposition at Sheep Mountain FAS has created a land barrier between the boat ramp and the river making it impossible to launch boats there during the majority of the float season.

“The remaining issue still to be resolved is the at-grade railroad crossing. FWP and Montana Rail Link representatives will meet to discuss the safety concerns of formalizing a vehicle crossing at this location.

“Montana Rail Link has committed to paying for the surfacing improvements. FWP will be responsible for the cost of upgrades to the crossing...”

New commissioner Pat Byorth said he is an avid floater of the Yellowstone River and that he viewed the new site as “critical to distribute pressure up and down the river.”

Although one public comment was received against the name of the fishing access site, commissioner Shane Colton said that Pig Farm is what everyone calls the site.

Colton did come out against the suggested name for a site farther downstream. The Bridge 51 site between Reed Point and Columbus on the Yellowstone River was approved by the commission, but not before Colton suggested the name be changed to Two Bridges, which he said was what most anglers called the area.

The site is on a Montana Rail Link right-of-way between a railroad and interstate bridge.

“FWP is currently completing a permit application with Montana Rail Link to secure legal access,” according to the agenda item. “Rail Link representatives have stated that there will be a nominal annual lease fee, but the exact amount hasn’t been established.”

Approving the site without knowing the cost gave commissioner Richard Stuker heartburn.

“I’m totally in support of it but don’t know what the price is,” he said.

“They aren’t trying to extract a lot of money out of us,” said Don Skaar, Habitat Access Bureau chief. “It’s typically a pretty good deal.”

FWP’s staff agreed to come back to the group when an easement purchase price is agreed upon.

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Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.