Montana's Future Fisheries program committed more than $400,000 between 2006-08 to restore portions of the Big Hole and Ruby rivers for Arctic grayling—a Montana native fish and member of the trout family best known for its large, iridescent, sail-like dorsal fin.
In all, more than $940,000 was committed in 2006-07 from various public and private conservation partners for 11 projects on the Big Hole and one on the Ruby River near Lazyman Creek, where Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is working to restore a fluvial—or river dwelling—Arctic grayling population. More than 41 percent of the funding is expected from the Future Fisheries Program, which currently offers about $745,000 annually to restore wild and native fish habitats across Montana. Additional project funding comes from new partnerships—and through a number of funding resources including private landowners, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, Big Hole Watershed Committee, the Big Hole River Foundation, and the federal State Wildlife Grant program.
The key to the program is developing partnerships. Future Fisheries offers landowners and others the opportunity to participate in projects to restore Montana's wild and native fisheries and, at the same time, enhance the social, economic and conservation benefits for the entire watershed community.
On the Big Hole, projects have included riparian fencing to protect stream banks, stream-channel restoration, and the restoration of riparian areas by planting native grasses and shrubs. In addition, restoration workers installed fish ladders to allow fish passage and constructed additional pools in the river to improve grayling habitat, fashioned hardened cattle crossings, laid pipelines, installed water-measuring devices, and built solar paneled stock-water wells and stock-watering areas. The new stock-watering areas are designed to encourage grazing away from the stream to protect streamside vegetation and to improve late-summer flows critical for fish survival.
In all, more than 32 miles of the Big Hole River and tributary streams—including Bryant, Swamp, LaMarche, Rock, Big Lake, South Fork Big Swamp, Fishtrap, Berry and Deep creeks—will be restored or protected by the projects.
On the Ruby River, Future Fisheries restoration projects improved bank stability, impeded bank erosion with native grass and shrub plantings, and established more grayling habitat by creating pools in the stream. At Lazyman Creek, workers built a riparian fence and created small pools and side channels in the stream for grayling spawning. The landowner also agreed to improve the irrigation system on Lazyman Creek that will provide better late-season flows for grayling.
Most of the work is taking place on lands owned by ranchers participating in the nation's largest federally approved Conservation Candidate Agreement with Assurances program. Approved by FWP and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services in 2006, the Big Hole River CCAA includes 32 local landowners with 152,139 acres of private land and 6,030 acres of state land enrolled. The CCAA program aims to establish conservation and restoration measures by offering landowners incentives to adopt land and water management practices that benefit Big Hole River grayling. The agreement also assures participants that no additional requirements will be imposed, even if the grayling is listed in the future.
While the USFWP determined earlier this year that it would no longer list Montana's grayling as a threatened species, that decision is being contested by several groups who believe Montana's grayling should be considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Montana's river-dwelling Arctic grayling inhabited the Missouri River drainage for more than 10,000 years. Today's last remaining population exists only in about four percent of its historic range in the Big Hole River in southwestern Montana.