Yellowstone River reopens after deadly parasite killed thousands of fish

CODY, WYO. — Montana wildlife officials on Friday reopened a 17-mile section of the Yellowstone River to fishing and other recreational activities, ending a month-long closure prompted by the spread of an aquatic parasite that had killed thousands of fish.

The section of river upstream from the small tourist town of Livingston was the last to be reopened after an August 19 order closed 183 miles (295 km) of the river from Gardiner, near the northern boundary of Yellowstone National Park, stretching downstream to Laurel.

The closure was imposed by the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks agency and backed by Gov. Steve Bullock, who last month said the rare but virulent microbial parasite posed a “a threat to Montana’s entire outdoor economy and the tens of thousands of jobs it sustains.”

Hot, dry conditions and low stream flows had exacerbated the spread of the parasite along the most heavily fished river drainage in a state where fly fishing is a cherished pastime for residents, and a key draw for visiting anglers who spend millions of dollars in pursuit of elusive trout in pristine waters.

Recent cooler temperatures and wet weather have eased stress on the river and its fish.

“It has affected people profoundly, because the last couple of weeks of August are usually a most profitable time for us,” said Dandy Reiner, owner of Hatch Finders Fly Shop in Livingston.

Reiner said many fishing guides and others who make a living along the river took a huge economic hit, “but Fish, Wildlife and Parks did the right thing, because the river comes first.”

The closure cost the local economy and estimated $500,000 or more, according to a study released this week by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana.

At Bullock’s request, the U.S. Small Business Administration is offering federal disaster-related low-interest loans to affected businesses.

Reiner said she would not seek federal assistance because she didn’t want to take on any debt.

“But I am worried about next year, whether this happens again or people are afraid to come fishing,” she said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

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