To say that Missoula’s Bruce Farling is busy protecting trout and trout habitat in our state would be an understatement.
Farling, the executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited (MTU), was my special guest last Saturday morning on the statewide Montana Outdoor Radio Show. He shared some of the many things that MTU is doing across Big Sky Country.
But it’s not just his position that is keeping him active these days. His job has been magnified, along with every organization and government agency connected with preserving our state fisheries, because of our ongoing drought.
MTU has mission statement that gets right to the point — “Conserve, protect and restore Montana’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.”
The issues facing MTU to accomplish these goals are far-reaching and complex. To keep track of projects that MTU is working on, Farling breaks it down into eight different categories that all point back to the organization’s mission statement.
Those categories include: Habitat Restoration; Habitat Protection; Instream flow protection and improvement; Hydro; Native fish protection and conservation; Dealing with the Montana Legislature; Traditional stream access; and Education.
In habitat restoration, the Jefferson River project enters its third year of working with landowners and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to improve flows and restore tributary habitats. MTU currently has 20 projects on line or being considered.
According to Farling, MTU is also working on getting a good portion of the $130 million dollar Arco settlement earmarked toward fishery improvements on the Clark Fork River. In fact, right now MTU is sponsoring a small tributary restoration project near Drummond.
Here in Missoula, MTU is working with FWP to help enhance Rattlesnake Creek. Farling believes this project will do a lot to improve the middle Clark Fork River fishery. The project includes screening ditches that are killing fish in the lower Rattlesnake as well as putting together and funding a project to build fish passage around Mountain Water’s dam three miles upstream of the confluence of the Clark Fork.
“If the passage is successful, we could dramatically increase recruitment of cutthroats, bull trout and rainbows into the Clark Fork,” says Farling. That would be good news for in-town fly fishers.
Protecting habitat finds MTU working on several projects around the state. From trying to prevent overzealous bank stabilization of the Yellowstone River to defending the ballot initiative I-137 which bans new cyanide heap leech mines like the one that threatens the Blackfoot River, to opposing paving the Thompson River Road and of course being a strong proponent of the removal of the Milltown Dam and its contaminated sediments.
MTU is right in the middle of trying to work out a compromise for how much Georgetown Lake should be dewatered for down-lake irrigation along with drought plans across the state, most notably for the Big Hole, Blackfoot, and Jefferson rivers.
MTU is involved in dam relicensing and issues concerning that concern fish downstream. The Madison-Missouri, Kerr, and lower Clark Fork Avista dams are current priorities.
MTU is also intervening on behalf of the state in federal challenge of the Montana Stream Access Law and advocating for protection of traditional bridge access.
In terms of education, MTU is bringing trout to the classroom through state chapters. Locally, the Bitterroot TU chapter sponsors the popular “Bitterroot Buggers” program.
Finally, I asked Farling with all this going on does he ever just get a chance to go fishing and if so where are his hot spots?
“Of course, I love to fish and I get out on a regular basis but not as much as I would like,” he said. Then he paused and gave me the final answer to my question, “As far as my fishing hot spots — specifically — I won’t say, but the state really has some great trout water.” Thanks in part to him and MTU.