“Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.”
Madison River Foundation director resigns amid criticism
Michael Wright, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 4/10/19
The executive director of the Madison River Foundation has resigned after months of taking harsh criticism from fishing guides and Ennis residents over her positions on potential regulations for one of the most popular fishing destinations in the country.
Lauren Wittorp, who had held the post since August 2017, announced her departure in an email to the foundation’s members on Friday. The email did not name a reason for her departure.
Wittorp and the foundation became the targets of scorn from fishing guides and others in Ennis over her support for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks proposals to regulate use on the Madison River, one of the most heavily used waterbodies in the state. She was a member of the Madison River Negotiated Rulemaking Committee and drew considerable ire for supporting a ban on boats in the Madison’s upper wade-only section and for public statements some saw as too critical of guides and outfitters.
In addition to leaving the foundation, Wittorp will leave the rulemaking committee. In the letter to members, she wrote that she would submit a document to FWP detailing her discussions with “diverse stakeholders” regarding future regulation of the river.
“I am confident — because of the immense love for the Madison River and dedication to the protection of this blue-ribbon fishery — a solution will be found that will protect this fishery for generations to come,” Wittorp wrote. “I hope civil discourse can be found.”
Reached by phone Tuesday, she declined to comment further.
Jackie Mathews, a foundation board member, said the organization would begin asking for applications for the job. It still has two employees and will soon begin a restoration project at the Three Dollar Bridge fishing access.
Originally from Michigan, Wittorp worked on conservation issues at the national level before arriving in Ennis.
She supported FWP’s original regulations proposal in April 2018, which was lambasted by guides and outfitters who said it was unworkable. In response, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission formed the 10-person rulemaking committee and charged it with proposing a recreation plan that could be in place by early 2020. The group has yet to agree on a final proposal.
Wittorp wanted to see some of FWP’s ideas make it into the group’s proposal and to find a way to limit overall use. But the push that became most controversial was banning boats from the river’s upper wade-only stretch, which goes from Quake Lake to Lyons Bridge.
Many people use boats to ferry between wading spots in that part of the river and they argue prohibiting boats would privatize broad swaths of water. They argued that Wittorp was catering only to landowners there, including a few of the foundation’s board members.
Wittorp and some of the foundation’s board members argue that the water is still accessible and that wade-anglers deserve a stretch of river that’s not inundated with boats. Not all of the foundation’s board members agreed with the positions it took, and several had resigned in recent months.
Many of Wittorp’s critics took to social media to criticize her, and the foundation has received more than a dozen negative Google reviews in the past few months. A rumored physical threat was also reported to police.
The rulemaking committee meets again May 2 in Bozeman. It won’t be completely devoid of the perspective of the river foundation — committee member Jim Slattery, owner of the Campfire Lodge, sits on the foundation’s board.