Kalispell, MT — In an effort to boost native westslope cutthroat and bull trout populations, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is proposing to remove non-native trout species in Cooney Creek, a tributary of the upper Swan River in northwest Montana.
FWP is seeking to use backpack electrofishing equipment to capture and remove all brook and rainbow trout in Cooney Creek’s core westslope cutthroat trout habitat. The proposed project is in collaboration with the University of Montana and MPG Ranch, a privately-owned conservation ranch. Funding for the project would be primarily provided by MPG Ranch with labor assistance from FWP.
Freshwater fisheries are in decline throughout North America. In Montana, two species particularly at risk are westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout. FWP manages these species as “species of conservation concern.” Bull trout are listed as federally threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Competition and hybridization between nonnative trout has caused declines of native westslope and bull trout across their historic range. Hybridization is particularly concerning because it diminishes the genetic signature of a species, causing extirpation. Widespread hybridization between rainbow and westslope cutthroat trout has been documented in the Flathead River drainage, and in portions of the Swan River basin. FWP’s 2013-2018 Statewide Fisheries Management Plan recommends “isolation of westslope cutthroat trout populations if hybridization is a threat and habitat is sufficient to allow persistence” for the area encompassing Cooney Creek.
An environmental assessment for the proposed project is available on FWP’s website under fwp.mt.gov/publications, and copies are also available at the FWP Region 1 headquarters in Kalispell and the FWP State Headquarters in Helena.
The public comment period ends Friday, Aug. 16. Comments may be emailed to LRosenthal@mt.gov, or mailed to Leo Rosenthal, Fisheries Biologist, FWP Region 1, 490 N. Meridian Rd., Kalispell, MT, 59901.