We’re Moving our Blog

ImageFollow us to our new home! Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited has upgraded our website at www.flatheadtu.org  We are including our blog in our new site and will no longer be posting on this site.

We hope you will join us at our new venue. Please stop by www.flatheadtu.org and check out our new digs.

thanks,  Lucky


Keeping the Public on Montana Public Land and Water. (Now and Forever!)

plwa_logoThe Public Land and Water Association is to heartily congratulated on the victory in the Montana Supreme Court opinion in PLWA v. Madison County.  The precedent-setting decision assures us all of continuing access to Montana’s public waters. They did all the heavy lifting in the case. Montana TU filed an amicus brief in support and Flathead TU would like to thank PLWA for all their hard work on this case. Here is the note from PSWA on the case:

Resounding victory for public access

On January 16, 2014  the Montana Supreme Court overturned a lower court and assured public access to the Ruby River from bridges on land owned by Atlanta media mogul James Cox Kennedy. The decision sets a precedent that validates all Montana stream and bridge access laws. The Court affirmed a previous decision that  two of the county road bridges – Duncan Road and Lewis Lane – have a 60-foot wide public easement intersecting the high water mark of the river. This is the decision that led to the Montana Bridge Access law.

What’s new is  that the court essentially threw out the District Court ruling on the third bridge – a bridge on the Seyler lane  road . The lower court had mistakenly ruled   there was no recreational  access on the bridge because it was on  a road created by prescription or regular public use  and recreational use was not a basis for creation of the prescriptive  right -of- way.

On Seyler Lane, the case was sent back to District Court with instructions to determine the width of the public road right-or-way which had been established by prescriptive use. Significantly, the Court held that once a prescriptive easement is established, access extends to all public uses including recreational use.

The Supreme Court justices rejected the District Court ruling that a secondary easement off the travel way existed only  to accommodate maintenance by state and county crews and recognized recreation travel as a legitimate use to help qualify a road for prescriptive easement status.

The Court also emphatically upheld Montana’s stream access law, stating “that the State owns all the waters in trust for the People . . . and that a riparian owner takes his property interest subject to a dominant estate in favor of the public. ”

John Gibson, President of PLWA, stated “Today’s ruling from the Montana Supreme Court confirms once again that our streams are public resources, and not the exclusive playgrounds for the select few. The public’s right to wade or float any river or stream in the state has been recognized, as well as the right to access those streams at bridges crossed by public roads. We want to thank Montana Trout Unlimited and the Montana Wildlife Federation as well as our loyal members for their contributions. ”

“We have been involved in this case for over ten years and this decision has justified our efforts,” Gibson says. He went on to say that “Much of our success is due to the great work of the Goetz Law Firm in Bozeman who lead us thru the legal maze surrounding access to the public waters of Montana.”

Resounding Victory indeed! Thanks again to all the good folks at the PLWA.

Conservation Alert from Montana TU: Fish Creek

Tell Montana FWP Not to Over-Develop Fish Creek State Park!Fish Creek

WHAT:  The Parks Division of Montana FWP recently released a draft management plan for 5,600-acre Fish Creek State Park, which is located on Lower Fish Creek near its confluence with the Clark Fork River in Mineral County. The 35,000-acre Fish Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA) surrounds the park on three sides. Both areas were created two years ago when FWP purchased 41,000 acres from the Nature Conservancy, which had acquired the land from Plum Creek Timber Company. The idea of turning the full acquisition into a wildlife management area was popular with the public. The idea of carving out 5,600 acres to create a state park was the brainchild of former Gov. Schweitzer’s FWP director.

FWP’S PLAN: The draft management plan ignores much of what the public told the Parks Division during a public scoping period last year. Many commenters said the park should be managed primarily for conservation of fish and wildlife because the area is popular with hunters and anglers and it adjoins a WMA.
Fish Creek is a popular recreational fishery, and is the most important tributary of the middle Clark Fork for migratory cutthroat and bull trout. Much of the park is also winter range or critical migratory habitat for other wildlife. TU members and others urged parks staff to keep development to only that which is necessary for protecting resources and existing recreational experiences. However, the plan ignored these sentiments. Among other things, it proposes:
• Constructing a 40-60 unit RV-friendly campground with full hookups, running water and power in the north-central part of the park;
• Building a hut-to-hut trail system with rental yurts and access for hikers, bikers and off-road vehicles;
• Creation of developed “backcountry” campsites that include features such as outhouses;
• Working with economic development interests to attract many more visitors to Fish Creek, especially off-highway vehicle (OHV) enthusiasts. At a recent public meeting, the second in command in the Parks Division declared that, “We view Fish Creek State Park as an OHV park.” (OHVs include ATVs, dirt bikes, snowmobiles and other motorized recreational vehicles.); and,
• Charging fees for park facilities, construction of “interpretative” facilities and restricting certain existing public activities, such as dispersed camping and hunting (near park facilities).

THE PROBLEMS: If adopted and implemented, the plan will result in increased fishing pressure on Fish Creek — which is a small, sensitive stream — and harm to watershed integrity, wintering elk and deer, migration of forest carnivores and traditional uses that Montanans have long enjoyed on lower Fish Creek. This development blueprint is being promoted before FWP has even developed a plan for the much larger, adjoining Wildlife Management Area, which will be affected by activities in the park.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:  Contact FWP’s Parks Division and tell it:
1. Do not finalize a management plan for Fish Creek State Park until the agency has completed a plan for the Fish Creek Wildlife Management Area.
2. Designate the park as a “primitive park,” a designation the Montana Legislature created to protect parks with sensitive natural and cultural values from overdevelopment.
3. DO NOT promote the park as an “OHV park.”
4. Maintain the minimum development necessary to preserve public access for traditional uses, including fishing, hunting and hiking. Any development for camping, picnicking or trails should include minimal site-hardening and developed facilities, and it should minimize costs for operations and maintenance.

Comments due by Jan. 24, 2014. You can comment HERE at the Montana State Parks website.

FVTU January General Meeting

Fisheries in the Crown of the Continent – Glacier National Park


Quartz Lake Bull Trout collected for genetic testing

Quartz Lake Bull Trout collected for genetic testing


While Glacier National Park is renowned for its spectacular scenery, wildlife and hiking opportunities, the Park also supports vital populations of native fish and an active fisheries management program.

Please Join us on Jan. 21, 2014 to learn about the challenges and opportunities related to the management of the many rivers and lakes in our “backyard” national park.

At our January general meeting, Chris Downs, who assumed responsibility for managing the Parks fisheries in 2008, will provide an update on current projects underway in the Park as well as the current status of the update of the Park Fisheries Management Plan now underway. The Park is faced with many challenges including the devastating effects of invasive lake trout. On the west side of the Park, lake trout have invaded nine of twelve lakes to which they have access and are have had severe negative impacts on the survival of native fish populations. Two of the Park’s premier bull trout supporting lakes, Quartz Lake and Logging Lake, are currently at risk of losing historically robust and significant native fish populations due to invasion by nonnative lake trout.

Chris earned a B.S. in Natural Resource Management from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst in 1990 and an M.S. in Fish and Wildlife Management from Montana State University, Bozeman in 1995. Prior to coming to work as a fisheries biologist in Glacier in 2008, Chris spent 10 years working as a Senior Fisheries Research Biologist with Idaho Fish and Game on the Kootenai River, Lake Pend Oreille and the Lower Clark Fork River.

We know this will be an interesting and informative presentation and we hope you will be able to join us. The meeting begins at 7pm at the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks conference room, 490 North Meridan in Kalispell.

Refreshments will be served, door prizes will be awarded and, as always, you don’t need to be a Trout Unlimited member to attend. Please contact Chapter President Larry Timchak at 250-7473 for additional information.

It’s a Merry Christmas on LPO

Got a note this morning on the current status of the kokanee population on Lake Pend Oreille and it looks like continued good news. As you all know, Idaho Fish and Game began netting predatory lake trout in Pend Oreille in 2006 following the crash of the kokanee population and severe drops in the numbers of native fish and Gerrard rainbow trout. Those netting efforts have shown positive results in recent years, particularly in the numbers of popular kokanee salmon. Last year was the first year since 2000 that they were able to reopen a limited fishery for kokanee. This year they did an extensive survey of the lake shore areas and they are seeing a dramatic resurgence in kokanee which can be attributed to the netting program. Here’s the report from Andy Dux of IDFG and a great chart showing the continued explosion of the kokane population.

LPO mature kokanee trend 2013I wanted to update everyone on the status of kokanee spawning in Lake Pend Oreille.  There is still some spawning activity occurring, but it is mostly completed and we have finished our annual surveys.  We had a tremendous increase in the number of spawners this year.  We estimated about 1.2 million spawners (hatchery and wild combined), which was by far the highest total since we started those estimates in 2000 (see attached graph).  The hatchery trapping also went well and we collected 11.4 million eggs, which will essentially fill the Cabinet Gorge hatchery.

Last week we finished a visual survey of the entire shoreline of the lake.  This was a more comprehensive survey than we’ve done in recent years because there finally are enough spawning fish to warrant this kind of effort.  We saw a major expansion of spawning activity from predominately the southern bays (Scenic and Idlewilde) to many shoreline areas in the southern half of the lake.  In addition, there was some spawning on the northern half of the lake, which has been rare for some time now.

Looks like a Merry Christmas indeed for fishermen on Lake Pend Oreille! Targeted netting does indeed pay off.


Lipstick on a Mackinaw

In a master stroke of propaganda, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 1 put out a news release last week for the annual bull trout redd counts for the North and Middle forks of the Flathead River.

Spawning Surveys in the Flathead Show Positive Results for Bull Trout

The press release reports the redd numbers in glowing terms, stating that “This rebound is encouraging and indicates the current bull trout population is relatively stable.” And, “this translates to several million eggs deposited in the gravels of North and Middle Fork Flathead tributaries.”  Given the upbeat language in the FWP release, how could you help but think things are just hunky dory for threatened bull trout in the Flathead? Of course, news outlets fully took the bait with headlines like this;

Latest count: Strong numbers of bull trout in the Flathead

KAJ TV reported that “The latest surveys by biologists show the number of endangered bull trout in the upper reaches of the Flathead Basin hitting a new milestone.”FlatheadReddCounts

One slight problem; First of all, the press release came without the actual redd count data. Second, the reported 500 redds basinwide is not the actual count made in the index reaches. 500 is the number of tallied index redds expanded to what the math says it would be if if the whole basin had been counted. Which it was not. When looking at the actual numbers, it’s pretty easy to see that the redd counts are pretty much the same as they have been for quite a few years. Up a bit last year and down slightly this year. This year’s redd count in the index reaches was actually down slightly from the count last year and about the same as it was in 2008. Last year, FWP counted 229 redds in the index reaches. This year the count was 225, really not much change.

There was some good news, the count in the North Fork Flathead was up slightly over last year, although that was starting from a dismal count last year of only 58 redds with some tributaries reporting counts in the single digits. This year’s count on the North Fork only continues the decades-long trend of declining numbers. The Middle Fork Flathead counts were down a bit but again, that was from a pretty high count in 2012. So, looking at the data, it’s pretty easy to see that there really wasn’t much change in the numbers of spawning bull trout. Our native fish continue to face real and serious problems in the Flathead watershed. Not least among those being predation and competition from an overabundant lake trout population in Flathead Lake.

FWP is currently in negotiations with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes over management of Flathead Lake. The CSKT has proposed suppressing the bloated mackinaw population to restore some balance to the lake fishery and give our native bull trout and cutthroat trout some room to grow and FVTU supports that effort. FWP is opposed to any strategy that would reduce lake trout by even one fish. It is to the advantage of the state fishery folks to make it seem that everything is just rosy for our native fish and that there is no reason for reducing the lake trout population. It’s too bad that FWP chose to not release the actual numbers along with their propaganda statement, but what you need to remember is that what they are saying and what’s really happening in the watershed don’t necessarily always jive. FVTU encourages you to ask questions when you see these cheery statements from FWP. This year’s count is not a “rebound” nor does it represent “strong numbers” or a “positive result” and it certainly is no “milestone”. Always ask to see the real numbers and don’t rely on how the data are described by either side that has a finger in the pie.

Montana Trout Unlimited offers $10,000 to help hook illegal-introduction culprits

mttulogo350Montana Trout Unlimited is upping the ante in the fight against illegal fish introductions that threaten Montana’s world-class trout fisheries. The organization is pledging $10,000 to Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to offer rewards for information leading to arrest and conviction of people who illegally plant fish in important trout waters.

Montana TU is moving to increase rewards available following news that fishermen this summer reported catching smallmouth bass in Seeley Lake, a development FWP attributes to an illegal introduction.

“Ten thousand dollars is a lot of money, but when you consider lost fishing opportunities, economic cost to local communities and the cost of getting rid of invasive species, this is an important investment,” said Montana TU Conservation Director Mark Aagenes.
Aagenes said the discovery of smallmouth bass in Seeley Lake is all the more disturbing given concerted efforts by FWP, land managers and the angling community to restore and improve native westslope cutthroat and bull trout fisheries in the lakes, tributaries and rivers that connect to Seeley Lake.

“Unfortunately, smallmouth bass dumped into a hugely important trout waters is only the latest example of a growing threat,” Aagenes said.
More than 280 waters have been infested by unplanned introductions of fish species, according to the most recent information available from FWP. State authorities have documented at least 500 instances of illegal introductions, fully one-fourth of which have occurred in the past decade alone. Introduced fish can compete with or prey on established species, spread disease and parasites, interbreed with established species, impair water quality, destroy existing aquatic habitat, and harm our fisheries in other ways.
Moving live fish or aquatic insects from one body of water to another is illegal in Montana. Violators face a potential $1,000 fine and six months behind bars. Montana TU hopes offering rewards for information through the TIP-MONT program will deter illegal introductions by increasing opportunities for prosecution. Call Montana FWP at 1-800-TIPMONT to report an illegal introduction. Montana TU expects to negotiate a memorandum of understanding with FWP to make the reward money available as soon as possible. Montana TU is also excited to work with the FWP commission and the Legislature to strengthen policies related to illegal introductions.

“Introducing invasive species of fish is like spreading noxious weeds,” Aagenes said. “Invasive fish are like knapweed with fins. We need to stop the problem before it gets worse.”

For more information contact Conservation Director Mark Aagenes at 543-0054 or mark@montanatu.org.