The latest news from FWP Region One is pretty upsetting to those of us who follow the rules. Released today:
The owners and an associate of an outdoor film Company, Montana Wild, were issued 38 state citations and 11 federal citations, resulting in $5,950 in fines. The citations involved violations of bull trout fishing regulations and unlawful commercial filming activity on USFS lands without valid permits.
In January 2014 Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Criminal Investigator Brian Sommers and United States Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer L. Kevin Arnold began a joint investigation into Montana Wild, a Missoula, Montana based company that produces hunting and fishing videos on its website and is owned and operated by Zach and Travis Boughton. Their website states the following: “We specialize in outdoor marketing, social media, cinematography, photography, video editing and a new line of apparel.”
The investigation began when Arnold received information from a USFS District Ranger about a Missoula based company, Montana Wild, that supposedly produced a commercial film about fishing for bull trout in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Arnold conducted a preliminary investigation of the company’s website and found substantial evidence that they did in fact commercially film on National Forest Lands in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. According to USFS Rules and Regulations commercial filming is not allowed in congressionally designated wilderness areas such as the Bob Marshall Wilderness. On National Forest System lands lying outside of the wilderness, a commercial filming permit is required. Further review of the Montana Wild public website showed there was significant evidence of other non-permitted commercial filming activities on National Forest Lands. There was also a possibility of further violations under Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks statutes.
Montana Wild was in fact commercially filming and fishing in the Bob Marshall Wilderness based upon the information and comments found on the videos and photographs on the website. Arnold and Game Warden Perry Brown knew the videos were from the South Fork Flathead River Drainage and its tributaries based upon their experience and knowledge gained from patrolling the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Footage on the website, specifically a teaser clip for an upcoming video to be introduced at the Fly Fishing Film Tour debuting in Missoula, showed individuals fishing for and catching bull Trout in waters that can readily be identified as not being on the main stem of the South Fork Flathead River. According to FWP Fishing regulations the active or intentional fishing for bull trout can only occur in the main stem South Fork Flathead River, and only in the possession of a bull trout catch card.
Arnold contacted Sommers and Brown and advised them of his findings and asked for their assistance in investigating Montana Wild. Sommers obtained Search Warrants for the Montana Wild business and 5 computers, 13 hard drives, 2 cell phones, and other items were seized for analysis during the service of the search warrant. Sommers found over 2200 videos pertaining to the South Fork Flathead/Bob Marshall Wilderness fishing trip that occurred in July 2013; and videos of other trips where they were intentionally fishing for bull trout on the North Fork Blackfoot River and Spotted Bear River. Numerous videos showed the Boughton’s and Anthony Von Ruden intentionally fishing for bull trout in tributaries, such as Youngs Creek, White River, Big Salmon, and Little Salmon Creeks; these streams are closed to fishing for bull trout.
Sommers notes that the fishing violations that took place on the South Fork Flathead River and its tributaries could have devastating impacts on the bull trout populations based on the over handling issue in which some fish were handled for up to 12 minutes or longer after they were in the net. In one instance a bull trout was caught, netted, handled and released (with the hook still attached) only to be fished again for underwater filming, concluding with the fish being netted, handled and released again.
“ The over handling of bull trout that took place by these individuals on this trip will no doubt have negative impacts on the bull trout fishery,” says FWP Region One Fisheries Manager Mark Deleray. Deleray added that South Fork Flathead bull trout comprise one of the strongest and most valuable populations across their range.
The joint agency investigation showed there were also numerous instances of hunting and fishing videos being taken on USFS, Tribal, Private and FWP lands without commercial use permits and these videos were in conjunction with sponsors who were endorsing Montana Wild in exchange for advertising in the videos which would be sold or showed at film tours/festivals/rendezvous.
Sommers, Brown and Arnold invested hundreds of hours into the investigation. The investigation resulted in numerous violations being found. A total of 38 State citations were issued to the Boughtons and Von Ruden in Flathead and Powell Counties for intentionally fishing for bull trout in closed waters; failing to immediately release bull trout; and failing to report a bull trout on the FWP Bull trout Catch Card. A total of 11 Federal violations were cited for unlawful commercial filming activity on USFS lands without valid permits. All three individuals entered into plea agreements with Powell County, which included Flathead County charges, and the Boughton’s forfeited a collateral for the USFS violations. Overall these three individual paid $5,950 in fines.
Warden Captain Lee Anderson stated, “While the regulation preventing someone from intentionally fishing for bull trout can be difficult to prove, it is extremely easy for the angler to follow. Every angler out there knows if they are intentionally fishing for bull trout”. Anderson further stated this investigation was a great example of interagency cooperation. He noted that this type of effort is what it takes to catch individuals who are violating state and federal laws, and the officer’s tireless efforts paid off. The outcome of this case will hopefully benefit bull trout in the South Fork Flathead drainage and other areas in the future.