Purifying the South Fork Drainage’s Fishery

By Beacon Staff

Lakes and trails in the Jewel Basin Hiking Area are just starting to open up, enabling fisheries biologists to take their first samples from lakes poisoned last fall.

“It was encouraging,” says Fish Wildlife and Parks biologist Matt Boyer, “to see, from our samples, life coming back.”

Boyer and his colleagues are taking samples to survey the insect, plankton, and amphibian life in Black and Blackfoot lakes.

Their work is part of the South Fork Westslope Cutthroat Trout Project (WCT). The two lakes were poisoned with rotenone last fall as part of a 10-year effort to rid the South Fork Drainage of hybridized cutthroat trout. In the past, says Boyer, “we stocked non-native fish in the lakes, and if they stayed put, that’d be one thing, but they’re getting downstream and hybridizing with the native cutthroat.”

FWP is in the process of taking in samples, and hopes to have the lakes re-stocked in the next couple weeks by helicopter. The genetically pure strain of Westslope Cutthroat trout they’ll restock with come from the fish hatchery in Anaconda. This round of re-stocking will include two ages of fish ranging in size from about 6 ½ inches to 12 inches. In the fall, with the plankton back, they’ll do a second round and bring in fingerling fish.

The WCT Project has drawn criticism for using rotenone, and for the practice of poisoning a fishery. The FWP Commission is meeting on the 17th at The Red Lion Inn at Kalispell Center Mall. The meeting comes to order at 8:30 AM, and the Commissioners will hear an update on the project at 8:45 AM, after which the public will have the opportunity to comment.

The Commission will also rule on new land acquisitions for fishing access sites in Eastern Montana, upland game bird seasons, and hunting access agreements. They’ll also hear, and possibly decide, on early season migratory bird regulations, and changes to the elk plan objectives. The meeting is scheduled to wrap up by 1:45, and leaves the floor open for public comment or questions about non-agenda items at the end of the meeting.

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