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.

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Fish The Fish 2013

fishthefishA new community event called Fish the Fish will offer an afternoon of unique activities and entertainment to the public, including a fly fishing expo, vintage travel trailer tour, fly fishing casting competition and a raffle for significant prizes benefiting breast cancer survivors. Fish the Fish will be held September 14, 2013 from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Whitefish Mountain Resort base lodge. Fish the Fish will have local and national expo exhibitors including Simms, Sage, Scott, Lakestream Outfitters, Spotted Bear Ranch, Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited and more. A Spotted Bear Ranch fly fishing trip valued at $2,300 is the raffle grand prize. Visitors can also try their luck at a fly fishing casting competition hosted by Lakestream Outfitters.

Proceeds from the event will send local breast cancer survivors to a Casting for Recovery fly fishing retreat in West Glacier. Casting for Recovery is a national nonprofit that provides opportunities for women whose lives have been profoundly affected by breast cancer to gather in a natural setting and learn the sport of fly fishing. This is the third year that the local program is putting on a retreat.

Direct donations to Casting for Recovery can be made at http://www.FishtheFish2013.com. Raffle tickets can be purchased at the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce, Lakestream Outfitters, or at the Fish the Fish event. Tickets are $10 each or three for $20. Participants need not be present to win. Fish the Fish will have craft beer from Ninkasi Brewing Company as well as a cookout with hamburgers and hotdogs offered by Whitefish Mountain Resort. Full event details can be found at www.FishtheFish2013.com.

Fish the Fish is organized by the Whitefish Knotty Nymphs, a local group of women who are passionate about fly fishing and fundraising for meaningful causes in the Flathead. For more information about Casting for Recovery visit www.castingforrecovery.org.

Help Protect the Smith River

Action Alert from Montana Trout Unlimited

SmithRiverTell Montana DEQ TODAY to require an EIS and better data for a proposed mining exploration in the Sheep Creek drainage of the Smith River.

The Canadian mining company Tintina Alaska, Inc., wants to excavate a mile-long exploration tunnel near Sheep Creek, an important spawning tributary of the Smith River, to evaluate an ore body for a proposed copper mine. The problem is the ore body contains sulfides, so the discharge from the tunnel and the waste rock the project will generate has a good probability of creating acid-mine drainage – a nightmare impact that can be impossible to rectify and which has polluted trout streams and groundwater all over Montana.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has issued a draft environmental analysis (EA) that purports to assess the impacts and “mitigate” for them. But it’s a flawed document. It omits key data and relies on future, still-to-be-determined actions and monitoring that would occur only after a permit is issued for the exploration.

Write DEQ today and remind the agency how special the Smith River and its fishery are. Tell DEQ in your own words why it can’t risk spoiling this gem by the type of mining that has ruined streams and groundwater across Montana.

Tell DEQ to:

  • Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement on the proposal and disclose exactly what the quality of discharge will be at the project, and what treatment will be in place to deal with pollution.
  • Require the company to have a modern water-treatment system in place before the tunnel is constructed and keep it going after the project is complete as long as pollution is present.
  • Collect complete baseline information on fish and wildlife in the area and describe in detail how they’ll be protected.
  • Detail in the EIS the specifics of the reclamation bond it will require for the project so the public can comment on its adequacy. DEQ has a long record of approving inadequate bonds, requiring taxpayers to pay for cleaning up mining messes.
  • Deny an exploration permit if the exploration work would result in treatment of polluted discharges in perpetuity.

Tell DEQ to protect the Smith River. It’s the only one we have!

Send comments by Aug. 26 to:

hrolfes@mt.gov

OR

Herb Rolfes, DEQ, P.O. Box 200901, Helena, MT 59620

For questions, contact Mark Aagenes at mark@montanatu.org

Stay Informed! Get involved! Check montanatu.org for important updates.

Thank you for doing your part to make a difference.

You can help our native trout now

FLATHEAD BULL TROUT AND WESTSLOPE CUTTROAT NEED YOUR HELP TODAY!

A pair of fine Flathead bulls when it was still legal.

A pair of fine Flathead bulls when it was still legal.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are seeking comments on a draft environmental impact statement that evaluates options to benefit native trout by reducing lake trout numbers in Flathead Lake. Competition and predation from lake trout has resulted in drastic reductions in the cutthroat and bull trout populations in the lake and the connected populations found in the North and Middle Fork Flathead Rivers. Bull trout are listed as threatened and cutthroat are now a species of concern. Angling opportunities for both of our native trout are severely limited. Currently the tribes have been counting on a twice-a-year tournament – Mack Days – along with recreational angling to help reduce lake trout numbers so that the native trout can bounce back. But it is clear this isn’t doing the job. Bull trout and cutthroat numbers continue to be much lower than historically.

The tribes are now proposing to augment recreational angling with limited gillnetting of lake trout. This is where we need your help.
Contact the tribes and in your own words, tell them you support Alternative D, the proposed option that will double the number of lake trout harvested because:
1. Bull trout and cutthroat trout populations are too important and they need your help.
2. This alternative will produce the quickest and most effective help for our native fish.
3. This alternative leaves plenty of lake trout — more than a million fish — in Flathead Lake for anglers.
4. By reducing predation from lake trout, this alternative will provide enhanced angling opportunities both in the lake and in the Middle and North Forks.
5. The alternative allows for adaptive approaches, if gillnetting doesn’t produce expected results or if unexpected impacts emerge, the program can be easily adjusted.

Bull trout and cutthroat trout in the Flathead region are an important part of Montana’s natural heritage. It would be a shame to see their numbers continue to diminish.

You can help! Tell the Tribes you support reducing the lake trout population in Flathead Lake to benefit native bull trout and westslope cutthroat.

The comment deadline is August 5th, 2013.

Please send comments to:

Les Evarts
Fisheries Program Manager
Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes

Via Email: lese@cskt.org
(When emailing, please be sure “Flathead Lake DEIS comment” is in the subject line.)

Or

By Mail: P.O. Box 278, Pablo, Montana 59855

Click here to read the full Flathead Lake DEIS

To learn more about this important issue, please visit www.flatheadtu.org/FlatheadEIS.html
If you have questions, please contact Lucky Sultz (FVTU Conservation Chair) at l.sultz@bresnan.net

Sincerely,

Larry Timchak
Chapter President
Flathead Valley Chapter, Trout Unlimited
406-250-7473

Call to Action: Yellowstone Lake

We received the following plea from the East Yellowstone TU Chapter for help in supporting the native fish restoration effort on Yellowstone Lake. Please look it over and send your comments. Your support can make the difference.

ypfThe Yellowstone cutthroat trout (YCT) of Yellowstone Lake (YL) need your voice. A minor but vocal few have criticized the National Park Service’s (NPS’s) actions to suppress lake trout (LT) via netting and ova suppression. They have suggested that the Park discontinue LT suppression in the name of ‘wild trout conservation’ (by which is meant, lake trout conservation in Yellowstone Lake). This would doom the majority of the remaining cutthroats in the system. Please write to Superintendent Daniel Wenk to voice your support for the efforts of the NPS (in conjunction with the USGS, TU, GYC and NPCA) to control the invasive LT in the system thus allowing the cutthroats to survive and repopulate.

Mail your individual and chapter letters to:

Superintendent Daniel Wenk

Yellowstone National Park

P. O. Box 168

Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190

Please personalize your letter, especially include any past experiences that you may have had before LT invasion of the system and your desire to see that restored. We need to share what this system meant to the angling public before LT.

Talking points might include:

1. The overall decline of YCT’s throughout their range (currently 43% of historical with ¼ of that suffering from hybridization). YL used to be the stronghold for the species with 4 million individuals, safe from climate change, habitat loss, development, hybridization. Current YCT populations are less than 10% of historical in the Lake.

2. The YCT is the only native trout to the YL system. The YL system was the single largest genetically pure remaining population of YCT’s anywhere. As such, it is a key population to the health of the species and needs our help to be recovered.

3. The YCT is the keystone species to an entire ecosystem. The decline in its population has impacted this entire ecosystem and some 40 other species.

4. The YCT in YL was a huge economic driver both as a popular sport fish but also a tourist draw to Fishing Bridge, Le Hardy Rapids, and elsewhere.

5. The LT is an invasive, no matter how it was introduced, that has not only decimated this YCT population but doesn’t fill the ecosystem needs that the YCT did. It is also not a replacement sport fish of the same caliber as the YCT.

6. The NPS is using the best available science, supported by a Science Review Panel of fisheries professionals from academia, governmental agencies, and non-governmental groups (TU, GYC and NPCA).

7. Bottom line, make your letter about your experiences, not just a repeat of these points. For example relate why you would or have visited Yellowstone specifically to fish for YCT’s or if you had a chance to witness the incredible spawning runs of cutthroat before the impact of lake trout. We need to show the value placed on this fishery the way it was by anglers like you who had a chance to know and love this incredible place and who value the recovery of the Yellowstone Cutthroats to this system.

Thank Governor Bullock for his Good Work

(From Montana Trout Unlimited)

Please thank Governor Bullock for vetoing bad water bills and supporting important measures benefiting wild trout.

Several water policy bills Montana TU spent much of the session trying to defeat or amend made it to Governor Steve Bullock’s desk. After thoughtful deliberation with state agency staff, he vetoed the three worst bills. TU members really need to thank him for protecting Montana’s great rivers. The vetoed bills include:

SB 19, sponsored by Sen. Brad Hamlett (D-Cascade), would have codified an existing loophole in water law that allows developers to drill an unlimited amount of so-called “exempt wells” in subdivisions without requiring permits or an evaluation of how the cumulative effect of the pumping would affect connected surface water sources. We proposed amendments that would fix the measure, but the Legislature rejected them.

SB 337, also sponsored by Sen. Hamlett. It would have severely reduced the ability of Montanans who don’t have water rights in a particular basin, but have otherwise invested in streamflow conservation from having formal say in Montana’s adjudication of water rights. Gov. Schweitzer vetoed the same bill last session, just weeks after the Montana Supreme Court had upheld the right of TU to object in adjudication proceedings.

SB 347, sponsored by Sen. Chas Vincent (R-Libby), would have exempted massive groundwater pumping or surface diversions for mining from Montana’s nondegradation policy, which protects the state’s high quality waters from undue harm. This bill would have allowed mines to reduce flows in streams that are recharged by the pumped or diverted water. Despite numerous attempts by Montana TU and the governor to amend the bill in a way that would reduce harm, but still allow mines to pump groundwater, the mining industry insisted on a harmful version.

Governor Bullock also deserves special thanks for:

  • Approving a budget for FWP that adequately funds the Future Fisheries Improvement Program, which has invested in millions of dollars of fishery habitat restoration since 1995.
  • Helping develop and approving a bill that greatly improves Montana’s program for dealing with aquatic invasive species, including an appropriation of $1.4 million for the next two years.
  • Vetoing a line-item in a key budget bill that would have eliminated FWP’s ability to purchase important habitat or conservation easements.

Contact Governor Bullock at governor@mt.gov.

or

call the Governor’s office at 406-444-3111.

And finally….Thanks for helping out this session when we asked you to contact legislators on certain bills, YOU RESPONDED AND YOU MADE A BIG DIFFERENCE!

For more information on the 2013 Montana Legislature visit montanatu.org or contact mark@montanatu.org or bruce@montanatu.org

Stay Informed! Get involved! Check www.montanatu.org for important updates.

Thank you for doing your part to make a difference.

Tell Governor Bullock to Veto Senate Bill 347

Commentary from Montana Trout Unlimited Executive Director Bruce Farling

During pretty much every Montana Legislature the mining industry comes in asking for special gifts. This session the industry wants the ability to trump water rights — all water rights, including very old, established rights for agricultural irrigation, hydropower, municipalities and fishery protection. The Senate and House have obliged.

It is now up to Gov. Steve Bullock to tell the mining industry it can’t diminish the property of others. He should veto Senate Bill 347.

Evading water law

Sponsored by Libby Republican Sen. Chas Vincent, SB347 ensures that the effects of massive groundwater pumping or diversions for mines will not be reviewed under the “nondegradation policy” of Montana’s Water Quality Act. The standards under this policy aim to protect Montana’s highest-quality waters. One standard says that if diversions or groundwater pumping reduce streamflows by more than 15 percent, or 10 percent when streams are lowest, it triggers a review of the effects, possibly requiring alternatives or mitigation. But the industry doesn’t want to comply, so it’s asking for a special deal.

Massive pumping of groundwater for keeping underground mines dry can deplete connected surface flows in streams. The nondegradation standards are the only legal backstop existing water right holders have to ensure pumping doesn’t diminish their rights to surface water. Because pumping or diverting from streams to keep mining operations dry doesn’t require water rights, affected users with water rights, such as irrigators and cities, can’t file objections under Montana’s water use law claiming harm.

Mining groundwater

So if you irrigate in, say, one of the areas that could be facing future mining that requires massive groundwater pumping, such as near Sheep Creek and the Smith River, or, along Fish Creek in the Jefferson River watershed, or around Moose Creek in the Big Hole drainage, you could lose water you have a legal right to. If you run a hydroelectric dam on the lower Clark Fork downstream of two huge underground mines in the Cabinet Mountains that will pump millions of gallons of water a day, you might have less water to run your turbines, water you have a legal right to. Or, if you’re the city of Butte and want adequate water in Basin Creek Reservoir, a municipal drinking-water source, be concerned. Groundwater pumping for a mining operation upstream in the Highland Mountains could diminish your right to surface flows. Finally, if you think instream flow rights that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has on the Blackfoot, Big Hole or Smith Rivers will protect these multi-million-dollar recreational gems, think again. SB347 allows mining to trump FWP’s fishery-based water rights.

SB347 passed the Senate by a wide margin because the bill was supposed to be fixed in the House. But it wasn’t. Vincent did add an amendment that purports to protect fish. But industry lobbyists ensured the language is vague and difficult to enforce, practically guaranteeing future lawsuits.

Everyone who uses water beneficially in Montana must have a valid water right. The priority of these rights follows our first-in-time, first-in-right system. Newer rights cannot trump old rights. Interests with senior rights can file objections with Montana’s water use agency or state water court if a new use will harm theirs. That’s our system. But under SB347, the mining industry can ignore this. Gov. Bullock should ensure mining doesn’t harm existing water rights and veto SB347.