Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks is currently gathering public comment regarding recreational use in the Fish Creek drainage, an essential native and wild trout spawning tributary of the lower Clark Fork River. A dependable source of cold water throughout the season, Fish Creek also provides thermal refuge to Clark Fork native fish when summer water temperatures soar on the main river. Recreational use has increased substantially in the watershed over the past 10 years. Montana TU believes it’s essential that this area is managed to preserve it’s excellent habitat values and resiliance to climate change for native species.
Two issues included in FWP’s survey are particularly important to us and we ask MTU members to comment in support of lessening the impacts to this sensitive area.
Floating Closure – We support a floating closure on Fish Creek. Large woody debris is common in this watershed and essential to native trout populations. We are concerned angler use during a relatively short floating season will result in the removal of logs to maintain navigability, thus harming the fishery. Please support wade-only fishing access on the Creek.
Developed Camp Sites Only – Dispersed camping already occurs on Fish Creek and increasing it will only have negative effects on future water quality. We believe camping in the drainage should be confined to developed camping areas with proper vault toilet facilities, to lessen impacts throughout the drainage to maintain clean, cold, complex, and connected water and habitat for both fish and wildlife.
To complete the survey, visit FWP’s Fish Creek Watershed Recreation Planning page for more information or use a direct link to the survey HERE. Please personalize your answers with the comment boxes provided to ensure your comments carry the most weight. The comment period closes December 20, 2022. When answering the questions, we ask that you strongly consider the values we hold dear: conserving, protecting, and restoring Montana’s wild and native trout. Thank you for your attention to this important issue.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) is undergoing the now biennial review of fishing regulations and has proposed changes for the 2023-24 seasons. We support the vast majority of the proposed regulations and encourage our members and the public to get involved in the process. While FWP is hosting a series of Open Houses around the state, with opportunities to ask questions, we strongly recommend that interested citizens submit formal comments on issues they care about. Comments will be accepted until September 22, 2022 at 5pm. Visit https://fwp.mt.gov/fish/regulations/public-comment for a complete list of the proposed changes and opportunities to comment online on each proposal.
Here are 5 things we are happy to see and support in the new proposed regulations:
Fighting Illegal Introductions – Many of the proposed changes strengthen FWP’s commitment to proactively managing against illegal fish introductions. We support the efforts to suppress fish populations, like walleye, northern pike, and smallmouth bass, that have resulted from those illegal introductions.
Stopping Illegal Bait Transport and AIS – Fishing regulations, particularly around live and dead bait, are an important tool in combating the spread of aquatic invasive species. Several proposals offered here provide strong protections in that regard. We support all efforts to combat aquatic invasive species from entering our waterways.
Conserving Sustainable Wild Trout Fisheries – Based on sound scientific research conducted by FWP, a number of proposals seek to support natural reproduction in southwest Montana reservoirs by protecting spawning fish in tributaries through the third Saturday in May. We support efforts to create sustainable, wild populations of fish.
Protection for Struggling SW MT Wild Trout – Faced with troubling declines in trout populations in many southwest Montana rivers, FWP biologists have developed a science-based, data driven approach to managing fisheries on the Ruby, Beaverhead, and Big Hole rivers. These are adaptive strategies that will evolve as the fish populations rebound, but we support the current more restrictive regulations proposed on these rivers. Further we appreciate the ability to learn from these proposals as to what types of regulations may help support fish population recovery.
Expanding Angler Opportunity – We are supportive of efforts to expand angler opportunity and harvest where appropriate, namely in several put-and-take fisheries and lakes that experience frequent over-winter kills.
We hope all interested members of the public take the opportunity to get involved in this important process. If you have any questions, please reach out to us directly at [email protected].
By David Brooks, Executive Director, Montana Trout Unlimited
As historic flooding in the Yellowstone watershed recedes and people impacted turn to the daunting and complicated task of rebuilding, it is valuable for us to reflect on the last time the Yellowstone flooded. The aftermath of the highwater event that took place in the spring of 1997 offers lessons for moving forward now.
That year, a deep snowpack followed by a warm spring with heavy rains sent the river out of its banks for much of its length from Yellowstone National Park through Billings and beyond. Scenes of property and infrastructure damage were much like those we’ve seen this June. Then, as now, people think of floods as great acts of nature. To some degree that’s true. But the 1997 floods brought home the reality that how we manage and manipulate our rivers also determines how floodwaters behave.
Between 1995 and 1998, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) issued more than 170 permits for projects along the banks of the Yellowstone River, mostly for riprap, dikes and other bank hardening that reduced natural river habitat. Many of those permits were issued in a rush following the 1997 floods. There was so little analysis of how individual projects would cumulatively impact river health and future flooding that Montana Trout Unlimited joined four other conservation organizations in taking the Army Corps to federal district court. Because of the lawsuit, projects were put on hold. By summer of 2000, our coalition prevailed. The court unequivocally deemed that the Corps had violated the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by allowing the modification of the river’s banks without analyzing how such projects would have a collective negative impact on the river’s health and cause worse future flooding. Blanketing the banks of the Yellowstone or any river with boulders, concrete or hardened canal-like walls was increasingly harming fish and greatly increasing the flood risks to downstream neighbors. As MTU’s Executive Director Bruce Farling put it, the court decision was “the insurance policy Montana needed to prevent the slow death of the Yellowstone, one rip rap project at a time.”
Since that ruling, the Corps has been more cognizant of the negative impacts of projects that reduce natural habitat in ways that accelerate and compound flooding. In contrast, maintaining or restoring riparian habitat absorbs floodwaters, slowing and reducing the rush of spring runoff, keeping that water within the river or, when it spreads into the natural floodplain, dampening the force of floods on human infrastructure like homes, roads, and bridges. In short, what’s good for fish and wildlife turns out to be good for protecting riverside property and adjacent infrastructure. Following the previous flood and lawsuit, a citizen and expert task force studied the upper Yellowstone, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in research that documented the damage caused by years of artificial bank stabilization. It also recommended better ways to rebuild and create resiliency in the Yellowstone and other rivers.
The investment in efforts to restore natural river habitat rather than the short-term solutions of riprap or riverside lawns, to build bridges or culverts that better accommodate fish, wildlife, and floods, and to give rivers some space to rise up and move around, as they inevitably do, will pay off during future historic events, with more protections for fish and wildlife, and less risk to property and life. Rebuilding healthier rivers from top to bottom will help keep fish from being washed into fields and stranded. Maintaining a meandering river instead of straightening it can help keep flooding out of places like Red Lodge. Building better engineered bridges can keep rural residents connected to communities and reduce the need for emergency closures of rivers like the Yellowstone. Restoring fully functioning floodplains and resilient river habitat does not prevent floods, especially as we adapt to the alterations that climate change is having on the amount and timing of snowpack and spring rains. But if river restoration following the devastation of 2022 saves native and wild trout, saves on future flood cleanup costs, or saves one home, it sure seems worth considering.