There are a few basics you pick up rather quickly when you first start recreating on Montana's forests and rivers. One, always carry bear spray. Two, never tie a fabric cooler to your inner tube. And three, whatever the activity, read the damn rules.
Apparently this last rule of thumb is a tricky one, or at least that's the impression one gets reading Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks' account of its two-year investigation into a local outdoor film company. According to a mid-February release from the agency, Montana Wild was slapped with 49 state and federal citations and $5,950 in fines relating to bull trout fishing violations and commercial filming in the Bob Marshall Wilderness without valid permits. The charges stemmed from a fishing/filming trip the company conducted on the South Fork Flathead River and several of its tributaries in 2013.
Not long after FWP said its piece, Montana Wild filmmakers Zack and Travis Boughton posted a statement of their own on their company's website. In it the duo apologized to their supporters, called the situation an "honest mistake" and took "full responsibility." Such statements would surely earn sympathy and understanding—had they not been preceded by six lengthy paragraphs shifting the blame to everyone else.
The Boughtons accuse FWP of not making it clear enough in the agency's regulations that fishing for bull trout was barred on the South Fork's tributaries. They claim numerous fly shop owners and outfitters never told them such activity was illegal. And they allege, without naming him, that Montana Film Office Commissioner Deny Staggs advised them a permit wasn't necessary for their project. In other words, they didn't "assume full responsibility" at all. They crafted a no-one-told-us-it-was-illegal plea and put it out to the world.
It's an odd argument, reminiscent of what you might hear on a playground, and it holds up less the more you consider the number of film companies and independent filmmakers out there not getting cited and fined. In a week when the local filmmaking community should be celebrated during the annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, it's too bad one company had to ruin the mood. Especially when all they had to do was read the damn rules.