Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is seeking public comment on a draft agreement to conserve and manage Yellowstone cutthroat trout in Montana.
The draft Conservation Agreement and Management Program for Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout was developed in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Crow Indian Tribe. It outlines an array of proposed management and conservation efforts that could be employed by state, federal, and tribal agencies. The overall goal of the draft agreement is to restore and maintain fishable populations of Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
"The agreement is modeled after a similar effort recently completed for westslope cutthroat trout," said Ken McDonald, FWP's native species coordinator. "What we're looking at is a framework for state, tribal, and federal agencies with management authority over Yellowstone cutthroat trout or their habitat. The draft agreement and management plan are designed to protect, enhance, and restore the Yellowstone cutthroat trout within its historic range in Montana."
FWP will host two open-house meetings to discuss the draft agreement and provide opportunities for public comment. The first open house will be held in Billings on Wednesday, June 30, from 7-9 p.m. at the FWP Region 5 Headquarters, 2300 Lake Elmo Dr. The second open house will be held in Livingston, Thursday, July 1 from 7-9 p.m. at the City-County Building, 414 East Callender. The open houses will include a review of the draft agreement and proposed management program. FWP and U.S. Forest Service personnel will be available to answer questions.
Yellowstone cutthroat trout are one of Montana's native trout. They, along with the westslope cutthroat trout, have been designated as Montana's state fish. In Montana, Yellowstone cutthroat trout originally occurred throughout the upper Yellowstone River drainage above the confluence with the Bighorn River, occurring in an estimated 4,260 stream miles. It is estimated today that pure Yellowstone cutthroat trout comprise 40 stream populations occupying approximately 500 stream miles. Slightly hybridized and untested populations occupy at least an additional 950 stream miles.
Causes of decline of Yellowstone cutthroat trout include competition with introduced brook, rainbow, and brown trout; hybridization with introduced rainbow and westslope cutthroat trout; habitat degradation and loss of habitat.
"Although many of the past impacts cannot be undone, this agreement and management program would attempt to halt further declines, and to restore and expand populations when and where possible," McDonald said. "Successful implementation of the agreement should result in the long-term persistence of native Yellowstone cutthroat trout within their historic range in Montana, as well as allow for recreational fishing for this popular fisheries resource."
It is McDonald's hope that the Cooperative Conservation Agreement would be adopted by FWP, Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the Crow Tribe, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Yellowstone cutthroat trout are Species of Special Concern in Montana. Several groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Yellowstone cutthroat trout as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The USFWS hasn't responded to the petition.
For a copy of the draft agreement, contact the Fisheries Division, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701. Or call 406-444-2449. Public comment on the agreement will be accepted through July 30.