Flathead Advisory Board Supports Lake Trout Suppression

By Beacon Staff

Continuing the roiling debate over management of native and nonnative fish in the largest freshwater lake in the West, the cooperative advisory board for the state of Montana and Flathead Reservation agreed that native bull trout remain in danger in Flathead Lake and that lake trout should be increasingly suppressed in the prized fishery.

The Flathead Reservation Fish and Wildlife Board, a seven-person collective appointed by tribal and state leaders to help steer co-management efforts between the governing bodies, reached a consensus of broad support for the tribe’s proposal to significantly reduce the lake trout population in Flathead Lake.

The board recently reviewed the proposals laid out in the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ draft environmental impact statement, which distinguished four possible management options for lake trout in Flathead — reduce the population by 25, 50 or 75 percent, or maintain the status quo.

The board, comprised of chairman Joe Brenneman, Dean Vaughan, Whisper Camel, Ralph Goode, Diane Conradi and Michael Jamison, did not side with any specific alternative; rather it decided to follow its previous stance from a decade ago, supporting a co-management plan that favors bull trout and supports suppressing nonnative species that threaten the native species, in this case, lake trout.

The board’s show of support came at an Aug. 21 meeting in Polson that featured a flood of public comment, nearly split halfway for and against the potential shift in fisheries management.

CSKT published its latest proposed EIS for suppressing lake trout in June, laying out strategies for benefitting native species by reducing the abundance of predatory lake trout. CSKT received 362 comments during the 45-day public scoping process of the EIS, which closed Aug. 5. The tribe is reviewing comments and preparing draft responses deemed substantive, according to a memo from CSKT’s Tom McDonald.

“Our intent is to ensure that each substantive comment receives a proper response,” McDonald said.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks remains firmly entrenched in its opposition to increased lake trout suppression. The agency withdrew itself as a co-signer and partner on the proposed management strategy nearly two years ago. FWP officials, responding to the board’s recent decision, pointed to a letter by FWP Chief Jeff Hagener sent to CSKT Tribal Council Chairman Joe Durglo in January. Hagener’s letter reiterates FWP’s opposition to the tribe’s proposed lake trout suppression.

Brenneman said board members were upset with FWP for “dragging its feet” and failing to be involved with the development of an updated management plan.

“It was very clear the board was extremely upset with FWP,” Brenneman said. “Very clearly, we’re supposed to be developing this co-management plan between state and tribe. Board members expressed this, that the state has been dragging its feet. It hasn’t been a good partner. They failed to be a part of this management plan.”

When asked to respond, FWP officials again referred to Hagener’s letter, which states the agency’s suggestion of retaining a third-party mediator to help work through differences and create a shared vision for future management on Flathead.

The next step of the CSKT proposal will involve the Independent Scientific Review Panel for the Northwest Power and Conservation Council in Portland, Ore. The ISRP reviews individual fish and wildlife projects funded by Bonneville Power Administration and makes recommendations that could receive financial backing.

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