By Robert Lucke
"By keeping our fishing access site closed, you are playing right into the hands of the terrorists." "Bin Laden is screwing with our fishing." "How strategic is Fresno tailwater?"
Those are typical of comments the Havre office of the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is getting these days because the federal Bureau of Reclamation closed the state fishing access site below Fresno Reservoir to anglers.
"This is one of the few fishing sites we have right now due to the drought," Kent Gilge, Montana FWP fish biologist, said. "People have even told me they didn't think that Fresno tailwater could be closed unless we were under martial law."
He added, "It was strictly a federal closure. No one contacted us about the closure of our property. The BOR just basically cut off all access to our property."
Even though the fishing site is off-limits to recreationalists, people can still drive over the dam, and the reservoir itself is not restricted. Limited access to the Fresno tailwater is available from north of the Milk River.
"I've talked to the BOR people," Gilge said. "I don't know how to describe their response but it has been less than adequate concerning the site closure."
With the extreme drought conditions in north-central Montana, Fresno tailwater is one of the best fishing areas all year long. Good numbers of walleye, brown trout, sauger, northern pike and whitefish are normally caught in the fishery.
"We are encouraging fishermen to call the Bureau of Reclamation because public pressure is the only way to get this site open," Gilge said. "We need to open a dialogue at least on the merits on keeping the site closed. All we are told is that it is a matter of national security. That is the only response we get."
Mark Snoozy, information officer for the Montana Area Office of the Bureau of Reclamation, said his office has been getting lots of calls from angry fishermen about Fresno and from duck hunters about Lake Elwell, which is closed as well.
"I would have to talk to our people again but they are aware of the issue," Snoozy said. "It is being looked at on the national level. Reclamation is looking at all the closed sites."
The closure is directly related to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, Snoozy said. As soon as the attacks occurred, BOR began evaluating and upgrading the security of all of its installations, as all government agencies and organizations did, he said.
Even though there will not be any relief for the near future, Snoozy is optimistic about the future.
"It is doubtful that those sites will be open in the next couple of weeks but the long-term plan is to get them open and yet to ensure that security is maintained."
Public pressure is helpful from area hunters and anglers as well as anyone using those sites in the summer, according to Snoozy. Write to him at the Bureau of Reclamation Montana Area Office, Box 30137, Billings, Montana 59107 or call him at (406) 247-7298.
Daily News reporter Tim Leeds contributed to this story.