Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks announced today it would proceed with a revised cooperative project in the Elkhorn Mountains to protect a population of genetically pure westslope cutthroat trout in a 2.2-mile stretch of Staubach Creek. However, the use of special fish toxicants to remove brook trout may still be a year or more away.
"We're pleased with this revised plan," said FWP's Michael Korn, coordinator of the agency's Helena Area Resource Office. "We've taken more than a year to examine the project and to evaluate public and landowner concerns. And now, having listened and responded to those concerns through two environmental assessment processes, we're ready to move forward."
The cooperative effort among FWP, the Helena National Forest, the Bureau of Land Management and local landowners is aimed at the restoration and stabilization of one of six remaining native westslope cutthroat trout populations in the Elkhorns Mountain.
"Based on the extensive public review and comment on our Environmental Assessment, and our ongoing discussion with the landowners involved in this project, we've made several changes that make this native species restoration effort better and more acceptable to the peoplein the Helena and Townsend areas," Korn said.
Staubach Creek is about five miles long and flows into Beaver Creek west of Winston. Most of the 2.2 miles of Staubach Creek that will be rehabilitated flows through private land. There are about 100 westslope cutthroat trout remaining in the upper one-half mile stretch and about 2,500 brook trout in the same stream reach.
In response to public comment and landowner requests, the native fish restoration project in Staubach Creek was redesigned into three phases.
"By splitting the project into phases, it gives us at least one year to work directly with the landowners who have requested that we delay the chemical treatment of the stream to remove brook trout," Korn said. "Because the Staubach Creek population of westslope cutthroat trout are of critical importance, we want to immediately proceed with phases one and two to create more room for westslope cutthroat trout within this dwindling population of genetically pure fish."
Biologists hope to remove between 50-80 percent of the brook trout from Staubach Creek via electrofishing to make more room for westslope cutthroat trout spawning, rearing, and feeding during Phase Two of the project.
"This will help the westslope cutthroat trout population for the short term but it is not a long-term solution," Korn said. "We're creating a bit more elbow room for the fish, but some time between next summer and 2005 the stream treatment will be necessary to thoroughly remove the prolific brook trout. However, we will only treat the stream if the cooperating landowners allow FWP to proceed. At that point, FWP would submit an application to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, which would require another public comment process."&
The overall westslope cutthroat trout restoration plan for the Elkhorn Mountains seeks to expand the fish's range over a 10-year period to encompass up to 70 miles of interconnected streams, compared to more than 100 stream miles that would remain available for brook trout and rainbow trout.
The westslope cutthroat trout is Montana's State fish, and identified as a Species of Special Concern.