Livingston, MT- AUGUST 19:The Yellowstone River without drift boats or fisherman near Livingston, MT on August 19, 2016. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks has closed 183 miles of the Yellowstone River to all recreation due to a fish die off caused by a parasite, proliferative kidney disease, that has killed thousands of whitefish and has the potential to kill the Yellowstone's world famous trout fishery. Low river flow and high river temperatures have caused the proliferation of the parasite.

Livingston, MT- AUGUST 19: The Yellowstone River without drift boats or fisherman near Livingston, MT on August 19, 2016. This section of river remains closed, while reaches downstream and up stream have recently been opened. Photo: Bill Campbell

In what comes as welcome news to many here in Park County, and all of Montana and the rest of the world for that matter, Montana FWP has begun reopening much of the Yellowstone River and some major tributaries after closing 183 miles of the river from the Yellowstone National Park boundary downstream to Laurel. The most popular and scenic reach the river running through Paradise Valley and Livingston still remains closed, however, and the FWP is continuing to monitor the parasite that caused the PKD outbreak and overall fish health in that section and beyond.

The parasite that shut down the river is still present and active in the river, so while we can now float and fish again this weekend we need to remain vigilant and remember to CLEAN, DRAIN & DRY all of our boats, SUPs, tubes, boots, waders and other gear and equipment that we take into the water.

More importantly, the issues and conditions that forced the closure still persist and the problem hasn’t gone away:  the river is still running at near record low flows and the the water temperatures still remain relatively high. This is by no means a cause for celebration and simply going back to business as usual. We have all been very patient and understanding, even right up to the breaking point for many. We applaud this community for their perseverance and thank the FWP for their hard work and continued efforts to manage an extremely difficult situation, but in many ways the future of the river arrived this last August and we need to keep that in mind as we go out and begin enjoying time on the water again. For now we can at least breathe a sigh of relief.

Here is the complete update from FWP:

Sept. 1 Update:

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission opened two sections of the Yellowstone River Thursday, due to the improvement of environmental conditions that led the Commission to close the river and all of its associated tributaries on Aug. 19.

In a teleconference Thursday, after considering current test results and river conditions, the Commission opened the uppermost section of the Yellowstone to non-angling recreation only (with the mainstem of the Yellowstone through much of Paradise Valley south of Livingston remaining closed) and the section below Livingston opening completely to recreation.

The details of the decision are as follows:

Section 1

The Yellowstone River and all of its tributaries from the northern boundary of Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner, downstream to the Carbella Fishing Access Site, which is operated by the Bureau of Land Management, are open to all non-angling recreational uses. Angling remains closed in this section to protect the Yellowstone cutthroat trout fishery. On Sept. 6, department biologists will float this section to assess any change in fishery health during this period of non-angling recreational use. In the event this section does not show any detrimental change in fishery health, it will be open to all uses beginning Sept. 8. The public will be notified via press-release of the status of this section on Sept. 7.

 Section 2

The mainstem Yellowstone River from the Carbella BLM Fishing Access Site downstream to the Highway 89 Bridge Fishing Access Site near Livingston, remains closed to all public occupation and recreation per the original Aug. 19 closure. However, all Yellowstone River tributaries in this section, including Armstrong, Depuy’s, and Nelson’s Spring Creeks, are open to all uses.

Section 3

The Yellowstone River and all of its tributaries downstream from the Highway 89 Bridge Fishing Access Site to the Highway 212 bridge in Laurel are open to all uses, with the exception of the Shields River and all of its tributaries, which remain closed to all public occupation and recreation per the original Aug. 19 closure in order to protect the Yellowstone cutthroat trout fishery. The mainstem Yellowstone River and all tributaries downstream from the Highway 212 bridge in Laurel were never part of a closure, and remain open to all uses.

In the stretches of the Yellowstone River opened Thursday, FWP has no further evidence of dead fish.

Gov. Steve Bullock supported the decision to open parts of the Yellowstone River and the implications of the decision to the local economy.

“I join Montanans in being encouraged by this first step, but we’re not out of the woods yet and we must ensure that we are safeguarding Montana jobs while keeping this threat at bay,” said Governor Steve Bullock. “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, and I want to thank all Montanans and visitors for their ongoing support as we work to protect and preserve the health and economic benefit of the Yellowstone River for this and future generations.”

The Commission and FWP appreciate the public support and responsiveness to the closure that was deemed necessary to protect the sustainability of the Yellowstone River fishery.

“Recognizing the value of the fishery, the Commission is restoring appropriate and beneficial uses of the Yellowstone River system as quickly as is prudent, given the unprecedented nature of the event,” said Commission chairman Dan Vermillion.

Additional test results

On the Jefferson River, the parasite was found in one of the seven whitefish tested along with two of the three rainbow trout tested.

On the lower Shields River one whitefish out of the five tested was positive for the parasite that causes Proliferative Kidney Disease, which FWP scientists have concluded is the disease responsible for the fish kill. Additionally in the Shields River, three of the four rainbow trout tested were positive for the parasite.

None of the fish tested on Big Creek tested positive for the parasite.

It is important to note the presence of the parasite does not mean the fish are disease or that the disease is present in the river.

Test results from the Boulder and Stillwater Rivers are not in yet.

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