MTU awards $26,000 in Chapter Mini-Grants in Spring of 2019

Thanks to the generosity of the Michael J. Connell Family Foundation, Montana Trout Unlimited was able grant to $26,000 of funding during its Spring Chapter Mini-Grant cycle.

The Bitterroot Chapter (Hamilton) applied for funds to help support the installation of a self-cleaning, passive fish screen and diversion upgrade to eliminate native trout entrainment in a ditch that diverts water from some of the highest quality bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout habitat in the Bitterroot watershed.  It will also reconnect 39 miles of bull trout and westslope trout stream within the watershed.  The chapter will match the mini-grant contribution with $5,000 of chapter funding.  Christine Brissette of Trout Unlimited will manage the project.

The Flathead Valley Chapter (Kalispell) applied for a grant to contribute to a conservation easement purchase of 155 acres of critical land along the Flathead River southeast of Kalispell.  The conservation easement is being purchased by Flathead Land Trust.  It is part of a 12,000 acre conservation network that protects key bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout habitat.  The project will add to a 12,000-acre conservation network which safeguards 30% of the river bank, 50% of the high quality riparian areas, 53% of the wetlands, 42% of the 100-year floodplain, and 45% of the lands overlying shallow groundwater.  Lots of other partners, including $1,000 chapter contribution, will help leverage over $635,000.

The Joe Brooks Chapter (Livingston) applied for funds to continue the Watershed Warriors program at Gardiner, Arrowhead, and Shields Valley schools.  This project is an ongoing conservation education program run by Matt Wilhelm that puts conservation educators and professionals in fifth-grade classrooms to teach a series of 34 lessons on watershed science.  Students in the program have opportunities to connect their classroom studies to local watershed issues and fly fishing.  Instructors use fly tying, casting, and fishing as means to introduce aquatic entomology, reading water, invasive and native species, cold water restoration, riparian ecology etc.  MTU mini-grants have contributed to this program the past two years.

Missouri River Fly Fishers (Great Falls) applied for money to provide matching funds for a larger grant being pursued by the Sun River Watershed Group.  The larger grant will allow SRWG to hire environmental engineers to design three possible solutions to permanently keep the Sun River connected to an important trout spawning tributary in its lower reach near Fort Shaw. It will also address long-term water quality/sediment issues in this stretch of river that have hindered trout spawning, rearing and survival.  Habitat and water quality are recognized as limiting factors to the Sun River trout fishery.

The Pat Barnes Chapter (Helena) applied for funds to help transport Trout in the Classroom (TIC) students to Spring Meadow State Park to release their trout and test water quality to ensure the lake provides healthy trout habitat.  This effort instills in students the importance of caring for natural habitat for a healthy fish population.  The $1,000 would fully cover this element of the chapter TIC program for the year.  The chapter provides the rest of the annual funding for the program.

The WestSlope Chapter (Missoula)applied for funds to help install a telemetered stream gauge on Rock Creek tributary of the Clark Fork River to monitor daily stream temperatures and flow.  In spite of its renowned status as a native and wild trout fishery, Rock Creek has no stream gauge.  The goal of this project is to sustain the Rock Creek fishery and local agricultural economy through increased education and understanding of the water resource.  Data will be available via the WestSlope chapter website. The chapter is contributing $5,000. Tess Scanlon of Trout Unlimited will manage this project.

Fish fare well at 2019 Montana Legislature

Our efforts in the 2019 Montana Legislature paid off.  Literally.  This session we led sporting and conservation groups’ efforts to secure the most responsible fish and wildlife budgets that have passed the legislature in decades.  Specifically, we restored cuts that important projects and agency divisions suffered in the last biennium.

MTU’s Clayton Elliott worked to assure that Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ (FWP) Fisheries Division has funding to fully staff its native fish program, including an additional full-time position.  We got money returned to FWP’s stream gauge budget, as well as a first-ever investment in the department’s instream flow lease program.  We helped bolster funding for FWP to complete drought management plans that will benefit fisheries statewide.  Our work on HB2, the general budget bill, resulted in restoration of the state’s hatchery program, which was cut in 2017 leading to a 50% cut in the rainbow trout stocking in upper Missouri reservoirs. Plus we got $1.2 million for new state hatchery infrastructure that includes native trout cultivation for restoration work.  The 2019 FWP budget includes additional money ($300,000) for acquiring fishing access sites (FAS) or paying for long-term FAS leases, which is on top of the $2.05 million we helped acquire for maintaining and enhancing current FAS.  We helped repair a budgeting problem that required FWP’s enforcement staff to spend nearly a third of their time doing habitat work, rather than fisheries enforcement and FAS monitoring – their actual job. 

Unfortunately, the legislature failed to see the value in restoring funding from the Smith River special revenue account to fund the Smith River ranger program, but we remain confident the department will be able to find resources for these critical positions during peak use.   Similar to our work on FWP budgets, we helped ensure that the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s (DNRC) will get back its full funding for stream gauges that was cut in 2017, as well as its funding for implementing existing water compacts and managing water right permits or change applications.

Habitat Montana is a critical program that uses sportsman dollars to improve habitat and provide access for Montana’s hunters and anglers across the state. This 20-year old program has been an undeniable success for sportsmen, landowners, and our fish and wildlife resources. While past legislatures have made attempts to block or restrict how the agency uses these funds, we were able protect full spending authority of $8 million, meaning the agency will have the resources it needs to protect hundreds more acres over the next two years. 

MTU works with our national organization, Trout Unlimited, on a number of restoration projects each year, including leading the effort to lobby the legislature in support of two critical funding sources – the Renewable Resources Grant and Loan Program and the Reclamation and Development Grant Program.  This year, our partners in the Upper Clark Fork Program at TU applied for funding from those programs for three projects.  We successfully shepherded those projects through the legislative process, resulting in $125,000 for the removal of the Rattlesnake Dam, $437,000 for the Ninemile Restoration Project, and $285,000 for the Silver King Mine Reclamation. Through these projects, TU will continue to employ dozens of local contractors, improve functionality for landowners and irrigators, and restore critical native fish habitat in the upper Clark Fork benefitting westslope cutthroat and bull trout.

If you’re a hunter or angler you will see a much-needed overhaul of the state’s Automated Licensing System (originally built in 1998) that will make it more user-friendly because of the legislative funding for technology upgrades. 

As anglers, we will also continue to see a more robust aquatic invasive species (AIS) program because of our work this session.  The successful AIS bill extends the program implemented by DNRC and FWP that mandates boat check stations, advanced monitoring of at-risk water bodies, and increased outreach to water users.  The associated AIS funding bill reduced the fees on the angler AIS licenses for non-residents and youth anglers.  It implements a new AIS prevention pass required for out-of-state watercraft, and an additional registration fee for new motorized, resident watercraft. Large hydropower facilities will continue to contribute to AIS prevention.  MTU is proud of our work with a diverse coalition of stakeholders to help craft this balanced approach to funding that recognizes our shared concern for shared resources, and that proves we should all have some skin in the game.  We are similarly encouraged by other budgetary successes that reflect our willingness and ability to work with diverse interests, one bill at a time.  In total, MTU led the effort to secure over $40 million more than was appropriated in 2017 for Montana’s fish and wildlife resources and public access over the next two years.

Our policy work this session was a mix of pluses and minuses.  We led the effort to protect FWP’s ability to own and lease instream flow rights for the purposes of fishery health. This has been a successful program for 30 years that allows willing water right owners to sell or lease their water to FWP as a willing buyer.  We worked with partners to protect senior water rights and the Montana Water Use Act. In addition to restoring stream gauge funding, we helped move a bill that creates a new stream gauge oversight committee, including representation from nonprofit and government entities, which will help ensure these important water measurement tools remain funded into the future.

Lastly, there were no major rollbacks to the laws that protect our coldwater fisheries from the potential damages caused by irresponsible hard rock mining. MTU worked with partners to ensure that the laws, like the recently used “bad actor” provision, were protected by attacks from the mining industry and their legislative allies.  The legislature did pass one bill, HB 722, dealing with the transfer of hard rock mining permits.  We worked behind-the-scenes with the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to ensure the bill has adequate sideboards to protect the taxpayers from unfair bond forfeiture and our waterways from potential pollution.

That’s a wrap from the 2019 legislature.  If you have thoughts or questions, please feel free to contact Clayton Elliott (MTU) or Colin Cooney (TU), although after spending 90 long days in the Capitol, they might be gone fishing for a bit.  Well deserved.

MTU hires Jefferson Watershed Project Manager

Chris Edgington grew up in the flatlands of Nebraska, where his pursuit of fish started at a young age, and led to chasing bass and bluegill with a fly rod in his early teens. He found his way to Missoula Montana in 2002 after pursuing a degree in Wildlife Biology-Fisheries Management at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. While at UNL, Chris started cooking to put himself through school and developed a deep passion for local food and community built around the dinner table. He spent several years as a chef bouncing around Montana, learning the rivers of western and southwest Montana. The currents of the rivers were strong and pulled him to Dillon to reignite his desire for conservation. Chris graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Environmental Science-Wetlands Management from The University of Montana-Western. Over the course of his recent education, he worked as a seasonal fisheries tech with Chris Clancy at Fish, Wildlife and Parks, a sage grouse range tech with NRCS, and a hydro-tech with Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. He was a board member of the George Grant Chapter Trout Unlimited for the last couple of years, as well as being involved with the Chuck Robbins Chapter in Dillon. He will continue to serve these two chapters in his new role as Jefferson Watershed Project Manager. Chris brings a breadth of experience and knowledge to Montana Trout Unlimited and a passion for Montana’s rivers and trout.

Why the Jefferson Watershed?

Southwest Montana is known for its iconic rivers and quality fisheries, but chronic dewatering and critical water temperatures during late summer are a persistent issue. MTU realized a need in the region and, by creating the Jefferson Watershed Project Manager position, aims to continue the good work by Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks and partner organizations that has been helping maintain and restore healthy flows in this watershed. Based out of Dillon, Chris will work collaboratively with multiple stakeholders to find solutions for overall watershed health.