Biologists removing nonnative species in Swan River valley
MONTANA LIVING — Native Montana cutthroat trout and bull trout are getting a boost to their ecosystems from biologists who are removing competition with nonnative species.
In an effort to boost native west slope cutthroat trout and bull trout populations, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is proposing to remove non-native trout species in Cooney Creek, a tributary of the upper Swan River in northwest Montana.
Fish, Wildlife and Parks is seeking to use backpack electrofishing equipment to capture and remove all brook and rainbow trout in Cooney Creek’s core westslope cutthroat trout habitat. The proposed project is in collaboration with the University of Montana and MPG Ranch, a privately owned conservation ranch. Funding for the project would be primarily provided by MPG Ranch with labor assistance from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Freshwater fisheries are in decline throughout North America, according to Dillon Tabish, spokesman for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. In Montana, two species particularly at risk are westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout. Fish, Wildlife and Parks manages these species as “species of conservation concern.” Bull trout are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Competition and hybridization between nonnative trout has caused declines of native westslope and bull trout across their historic range, Tabish said. Hybridization with non-native fish species diminishes the genetic signature of a species, causing loss of populations, according to Tabish. Widespread hybridization between rainbow and westslope cutthroat trout has been documented in the Flathead River drainage, and in portions of the Swan River basin, Tabish said. FWP’s 2013-2018 Statewide Fisheries Management Plan recommends “isolation of westslope cutthroat trout populations if hybridization is a threat and habitat is sufficient to allow persistence” for the area encompassing Cooney Creek.
An environmental assessment for the proposed project is available on FWP’s website under fwp.mt.gov/publications, and copies are also available at the FWP Region 1 headquarters in Kalispell and the FWP State Headquarters in Helena.
The public comment period ends Aug. 16. Comments may be emailed to LRosenthal@mt.gov, or mailed to Leo Rosenthal, Fisheries Biologist, FWP Region 1, 490 N. Meridian Rd., Kalispell, MT, 59901.