MTU’s Grassroots Warriors Help Get I-186 on the November Ballot

It takes more than 25,000 valid signatures from registered voters in Montana to qualify an initiative for the ballot.  A minimum number of those signatures have to come from at least 34 of the House Districts in Montana.  Never before has HD29, which includes Lewistown, produced enough signatures to help an initiative get on the ballot.  That changed with I-186 and our Snowy Mountain chapter.  After training to be signature gatherers about half a dozen Snowy Mountain chapter volunteers gathered about 150% of the necessary signatures in HD29.  That success is an example of the great effort many chapter members put in to bring our campaign total to more than 45,000 signatures and easily qualifying I-186 for the November 6, 2018 ballot. 

Now that MTU, participating TU chapters, members, and our many partners have cleared this major hurdle, it’s time to inform and turn out voters.  We don’t have space in a single newsletter to let you know about all the events and ways there are to get involved.  So here’s how to keep apace of what’s happening and how you can help make a difference:  Visit the campaign website (https://www.yeson186.org/) to learn more, volunteer, and donate.  Visit, share, like, and comment on the campaign Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/yeson186/).  Or, contact us directly anytime ([email protected]; i[email protected]).

Most of all, remember, MTU is supporting I-186 because it brings a much-needed, common-sense change to hard-rock mine permitting in Montana that will better protect the clean water our native and wild trout depend on.  It will also reduce the taxpayer burden of cleaning up and paying for permanent treatment of polluted water.  That money is yours and mine and could, and should, be spent elsewhere on the many programs statewide that ensure we have clean, cold, healthy streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands for generations to come.

Take action and tell Congress to #SaveLWCF

The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) is our country’s premier program to fund public access, fish and wildlife conservation and outdoor recreation. Since 1965, LWCF has poured more than $16 billion into local communities – including $597 million in Montana – to provide funding for everything from public land acquisitions to developing local outdoor recreation sites.

Chances are that if you have spent time outdoors at a fishing access site, state park, local open space, or public lands, you’ve directly benefitted from the LWCF. In fact, when you float fish in Montana you’re probably using an LWCF-funded access site, since half of all such sites in the state have benefitted from this funding source.  Unfortunately, LWCF is set to expire on September 30th unless Congress takes action to reauthorize the program.

Montana’s delegation supports reauthorizing LWCF, but they need to know that the program is a top priority for sportsmen and women. Contact our members of Congress and urge them do all they can to permanently reauthorize LWCF before it expires.

A phone call takes just a minute but can make a big difference, so call today. Senator Tester: (202) 224-2644; Senator Daines: (202) 224-2651; Representative Gianforte: (202) 225-3211

Why do we care about native trout?

“Spring” is the most common creek name west of the 100th Meridian.  East of that line, it’s “Mill.”  Chances are, most of us have crossed, fished, or floated by a Spring Creek.  I’ve often walked to the source of the one nearest my home in western Montana.  Under deep Ponderosa shade, it seeps to the surface through spongey mats of bright green moss.  Slaking a thin riparian ribbon along the way, it tumbles roughly five miles before joining Rattlesnake Creek not far upstream of where MTU is helping our national TU partners remove a dam.

One benefit to this dam removal will be to restore full passage to native west slope cutthroat and bull trout, both of which have spawned in this system since long before Spring or Rattlesnake Creek bore those names.  Native trout restoration is critical to MTU’s conservation mission, and the why is not always obvious.  When you start asking around and reading explanations for why we value native trout in their native habitats someone reminds you of Aldo Leopold’s oft quoted mandate that “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”  There’s a problem with that machine metaphor.

Equating a natural system to a machine overlooks the fact that one evolved, in many cases without the human hand anywhere in sight, whereas the other is wholly a product of that hand.  The metaphor also implies that each part, its relations to others, and the ultimate workings are fully understood. We understand the mechanics of how the drag on a fly reel works. 

We are less certain about why each organism in an ecosystem is important, but research clearly makes a case for keeping native trout in their evolutionary homes.  Most of that research has focused on places where non-native trout invade, if not replace native trout.  Brook and lake trout provide two good examples. 

When brook trout are introduced or move into western waters they outcompete the native trout on three fronts.  Brook trout achieve a greater density and biomass within streams than many trout native to the West, thus the non-natives simply consume more of the available food.  And, the food brook trout eat tends to be mostly benthic insects; whereas a much higher percentage of a cutthroat’s diet comes from terrestrial bugs that land on the water.

Finally, since brook trout spawn in the fall, their fry hatch earlier and are ahead on the growth curve compared to the spring-spawning cutthroat.  All of these differences mean that brook trout devour benthic insects, resulting in fewer aquatic organisms emerging from the water. More brook trout than native cutthroat in a system causes a cascade of effects up the terrestrial food chain.  Amphibians, spiders, and songbirds, for example, suffer a diminished food source when brook trout invade cutthroat streams. 

Recent efforts to suppress non-native and highly invasive lake trout from Yellowstone Lake illustrate this cascading effect that a change in native to non-native trout populations unleashes.  Lake trout are similar to brook trout in the ways they outcompete Yellowstone cutthroat.  Lake trout also spend most of their lives in deeper water than the natives.  So when the former replace the latter, piscivores from raptors to grizzlies fare poorly.  Yellowstone National Park biologists and partner researchers have seen a rebound in Yellowstone cutthroats, birds of prey and big bears around Yellowstone Lake soon after innovative suppression of lake trout eggs began reducing the non-native population.  Although we don’t know all the relationships, it’s clear that protecting and restoring natives helps maintain complexity and diversity. 

Survivability and sensitivity are two other reasons to care for native trout.   Because native trout have adapted over centuries and millennia in specific environments, they are, in many cases, more likely to survive the extremes of those places.  Having passed through the crucible of a specific system’s cycles of drought, flood, and wildfire a native trout species may be hardier than non-native fish.  Conversely, native trout are often more sensitive to physical and chemical changes in their natal waters.  Thus, they perform the role of “canary in the coal mine.”  While being able to survive and even thrive during and after wildfires, native Yellowstone cutthroat and bull trout are highly sensitive to chemical pollutants and over-sedimentation.  They are indicators of stream health.  If we pay attention, they are an early warning sign of how we are treating our streams, rivers, and lakes.  As Thomas McGuane put it in The Longest Silence: “Whether it is the trout or the angler who is more sensitized to the degeneration of habitat would be hard to say, but probably it is the trout.  At the first signs of deterioration, this otherwise vigorous fish just politely quits, as if to say, ‘If that’s how you want it…’”  Well, that’s not how we want it.  The need that native trout have for clean, cold water should be a mirror or reminder of our own needs for this vital resource.

Then there’s the other reason.  We should consider caring for native trout not because we are intelligent tinkerers, who know how it all works and what removing one piece might do to the whole, but just the opposite.  Keep them all because we don’t know.  Much of our world, especially when it comes to the world of water is yet unknown.  There’s still some mystery to places like the source of Spring Creek, high enough on the mountainside that it’s hard to find a weed or a bubblegum wrapper.  In spite of having dubbed such places with all-too common names, we have many reasons to continue fighting for their unique, native qualities.

Clean Water Rule rollback – Your Story is Needed

Montana Trout Unlimited has an assignment for you. Go spend time on your nearest or dearest headwater stream in Montana. Take photographs (selfies are OK). Reflect on why that place is important to you, your family, and your friends, including those with fins, fur, or wings. Maybe you have clamored along Hidden Gem Creek to where it bubbles up through alluvium and begins flowing under deep shade and over moss-draped stones every year on your birthday just to be sure it, and you, are still fully alive. Maybe you’ve taken up the Tenkara rod and savor angling by stealth and simplicity.   We need your photos and stories to help save the headwaters you value.

Whatever your story, wherever your special small water, we want to hear about it. Feel free to let your secret spots remain so by giving them nicknames. But know that disguising their names makes them no less vulnerable to Trump administration rollbacks in regulations that protect clean water and healthy habitat.

In his first 100 days POTUS Donald Trump signed an Executive Order asking the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to consider revoking the Clean Water Rule (CWR). The rule is meant to extend Clean Water Act protection to “ephemeral” or “intermittent” streams and many wetlands, which, in ontological terms, are the birthplaces and infants of our coldwater trout waters in Montana and, truthfully, all fisheries. Statistically speaking, the rule, when implemented, will apply to 60 percent of the stream mileage in the U.S. and roughly 20 million acres of wetlands. After years of Congressional and court haggling over whether or not to protect the precious beginnings of America’s water resources from pollution and dismemberment by granting them the same clean water standards set for larger, navigable waters, the Clean Water Rule was finalized in 2015. Eighty-seven percent of the one million public comments on the rule supported it and 83% of hunters and anglers strongly favor its application to small streams and wetlands.

Passage of CWR is a vital safeguard for all water users. By protecting the source from poisoning and physical destruction, it helps ensure clean drinking, irrigation, stock, and trout waters. While doing so, the rule also includes exceptions so that private landowners can continue to operate ditches, canals, ponds, irrigation systems, and the like for personal or commercial benefit as they have historically, without new water quality regulations. Nonetheless, the Trump administration is pushing to abort the rule and unshackle industry from having to help keep our water clean. Since we care about the health of the water that flows from our taps, grows our crops, slakes our livestock, and is home to our state and national fisheries, we cannot let this happen.

Montana can provide more gorgeous backdrops, and trout-filled snapshots than in any other state. Our personal stories of real places can illustrate that the threat is not abstract, but is real to people, places, professions and wildlife we love. Last week, I toured a $40 million mine restoration site on the headwaters of Montana’s famed Blackfoot River. A decades-long, state-led project to clean up and restore Mike Horse and Bear Trap Creeks has been a key reason that the Blackfoot has bounced back from a century of industrial logging and mining. Today anglers travel from around the globe for a chance at catching native and wild trout on the Blackfoot. Yet, small-scale silver mining continues on “intermittent” stretches of tributaries above the current Mike Horse cleanup site. If the Clean Water Rule disappears, those mine operators will no longer be obligated to care about sending new waves of heavy metals downstream through the meandering creeks that $40 million has brought back to life.

We will use our portfolio of your stories and photos to inspire other states to document their headwaters and to illustrate for the public and politicians what is at stake. If you need another push to get out the door, check out TU President Chris Wood’s tale of raising his kids on the Little Cacapon River in West Virginia, an intermittent stream covered by the CWR. (http://www.tu.org/blog-posts/little-kids-and-small-streams-deserve-the-clean-water-act) So get out there! Please send your stories and photos to [email protected]. We look forward to hearing from you.

-from Montana Trout Unlimited’s Spring 2017 Trout Line by David Brooks, executive director