The following post was written by Larry Timchak, President of the Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited, and was published in the “Opinion” section on the Daily Interlake’s website (click HERE for original article).
Decisions about our natural resources and their management should be based on sound science and an analysis of social, economic and resource related issues and concerns. While there may be a lot of opinions about what course of action to pursue, and there may be disagreement about the science supporting the analysis, those who disagree have an obligation to provide the facts and analysis to support their position.
Unfortunately, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks managers are choosing speculation over peer-reviewed science and sound economics to drum up opposition to the Flathead Lake Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Here’s what FWP is not including in their information in opposition to the proposed plan for gill-netting on Flathead Lake.
• The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes employed the scientific method with peer review using data and state-of-the-art population modeling developed by well-regarded experts. This was undertaken at great cost, just as the tribes fund the Mack Days contests to the tune of $350,000 per year. Biologists in the various agencies involved in this process, as well as other research, support implementing one of the reasonable alternatives to reduce the over-abundant lake trout population.
• “Secure” to FWP means status quo, meaning you can’t fish for bull trout in the lake and river, angling for cutthroats will continue to be catch-and-release, and bull trout will continue to be managed not by the state of Montana, but by the federal government because the fish will continue to be listed as threatened.
• There is a reason most other biologists and nationally known fishery geneticists disagree that bull trout are “secure” in the Flathead. First, far fewer bull trout are showing up in sampling nets in the lake. Second, though the overall number of spawning redds in the North and Middle Forks combined appears to be steady — or as FWP claims “secure” — the North Fork population is dropping precipitously. The decline is masked by combining spawning there with the healthier Middle Fork population.
• Sticking with existing management on the lake means significantly fewer angling opportunities for the public, as evidenced by the steep decline in angler days since lake trout have exploded — from a high of 170,000 angler-days a year to 33,000 in 2011. Research from elsewhere indicates catch-rates for lake trout are likely to remain the same or slightly less than today. The benefit will be higher catch-rates for other species in the lake and river system. Even if the most aggressive alternative in the DEIS is selected, there would still be more than 1 million lake trout in Flathead Lake.
• Bycatch is rightly a concern to be addressed and avoided, and the tribes are committed to this. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must approve and monitor the level of estimated bycatch before and during any netting on Flathead Lake. Accurate data from other regional waters show that reducing lake trout populations can be accomplished without adverse effect on native bull trout and cutthroat populations. FWP’s own data on Swan Lake has shown that bull trout bycatch can be minimized in the netting process.
• $20 million is misquoted as the value of the lake trout fishery. That is the value of the total Flathead fishery, including money spent angling on the Flathead river and lake. Only slightly more than half is spent on the lake, and 40 percent of that is not spent in pursuit of lake trout. When you include all the fishing money spent in other tributaries and lakes within the Flathead watershed, the value of the small mackinaw fishery pales in comparison. The Flathead Lake DEIS estimates that the loss to the two-county economy due to suppression would be less than 0.1 percent and that would likely be made up by increased river angling.
• Don’t believe the myth that if you buy electricity from BPA you will pay for this plan. BPA sets aside mitigation funds every year for worthy projects. That money will be collected and spent regardless of whether or not it is spent on Flathead Lake
“Belief” and speculation cannot take the place of thoughtful, rigorous science and sound economics in this important process to recover native fish in the Flathead. FWP needs to re-engage and support this process and live up to their promises to recover native fish in the Flathead.
Larry Timchak, of Kalispell, is president of the Flathead Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
<COMMENT BELOW POSTED IN RESPONSE TO ABOVE:>
Larry! Seriously??? If you are going to claim that “Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes employed the scientific method with peer review using data and state-of-the-art population modeling developed by well-regarded experts” then perhaps you should employ some of the same methodology and not just throw numbers around…
Lets start with your claim that there was EVER 170,000 users days on Flathead Lake. You must know that that number comes from a 1981-82 creel survey that was refuted for its methodology AND its accuracy, yet much like when supporting this cause, TU does not waiver in using numbers and stats that are misleading and unsupportable. Just as TU likes to use a ONE TIME redd count from that same era to support an inflated, inaccurate population number, this number smacks of data abuse!
Lets look at ACCURATE creel data that has been taken the same way each year and is AVAILABLE to the public…
Following is from MFISH on FWP’s website. These estimates are from the Statewide Mail Creel Survey which has followed consistent methodology.
It is obvious that even the 103,000 year in 1983 represented a PRE MYSIS, PRE KOKANEE crash number. We will never see a bull trout fishery again in the Flathead even if we COULD go back to 1980’s numbers. USFWS is unwilling to relax restrictions once in place, lets just look at Oregons Lake Billy Chinook as an example.
AND why is there no discussion of the recent revelation by the scientists at the FLBS that Flathead Lake, after experiencing its warmest temps ever this year, will no longer support it’s native fish? WHERE is the dialogue about THIS?
Now, to address the claim “just as the tribes fund the Mack Days contests to the tune of $350,000 per year”. Where does this money REALLY come from? According to a statement by a CSKT official to a member of our local Flathead Wildlife, BPA IS funding Mack Days, at the tribes request.
Mack Days site says $40,000 was paid out for 2013 Spring Mack Days, a LONG way from your claim of $350,000. If EVERY possible prize was paid out in a contest, and including expenses, I suppose they COULD spend that much, but you INFER that they spend that every Mack Days.
Lastly Larry, the Montana Department of Tourism and the Kalispell CVB has released information that values our local fishery at closer to 28.3 million, not the 21.1 million the DEIS claims. I don’t think you or TU has any kind of grasp how much lake trout anglers spend in this area.
Go to Snappy’s or Sportsman and compare the tackle selections for this type of angling. Watch when Cabelas opens this Fall what attention they give to this fishery. Attend one of the many seminars outfitters put on each year and see the numbers of people who attend to learn about this fishery.
As an outfitter who would be directly impacted by this plan, I resent Trout Unlimited devaluing what I and a dozen or so others do to bring economic gain into the entire valley. And if you are going to do it, at least use some real numbers. If the mis-information TU continues to put out in any way reflects the supposed “data and state-of-the-art population modeling developed by well-regarded experts” that the CSKT puts out, I am even more worried.