HELENA – Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks fisheries staff are concerned about declines in the number of bull trout spawning nests, or redds, in western Montana. Bull trout are native to Montana and are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
Trends in the data show redd numbers declining in 48 percent of FWP’s long-term monitoring sites, increasing in 12 percent of the sites, and stable in 40 percent. Generally, sites within quality and connected habitats, such as in the South Fork Flathead River and Hungry Horse Reservoir, have seen relatively stable or slightly increasing populations. Many smaller populations in habitats that are lower quality or not connected with other populations are mostly stable or declining.
“Bull trout need clear, cold water and complex, connected habitat,” said Eric Roberts, FWP’s fisheries management bureau chief. “We’ve done a lot of work to provide for these things in bull trout streams and we need to look at doing more.”
FWP biologists say the decline is largely due to warming water and altered stream flows, loss of habitat, and predation by and competition with non-native fish, such as northern pike and lake trout. Hybridization with brook trout can also impact bull trout. Other contributing factors are reduced fish passage and habitat degradation.
FWP has engaged in recovery projects such as large-scale habitat improvements, removal of fish passage barriers and adjustments to fishing regulations. FWP will continue to work with resource agencies, landowners, and water users to address passage barriers and improve stream flows and habitat.
“Over the years we’ve had many projects to improve bull trout numbers and it continues to be a focus for us and our partners,” Roberts said.
To further respond to the decline, FWP and USFWS will form an interagency working group this winter to address bull trout issues and to coordinate recovery efforts. The group will include members from federal and state agencies, tribes, researchers and non-governmental organizations. Input from the group will help inform a statewide conservation strategy being developed by FWP and partners.
“Bull trout recovery is going to require all of us to work together, we appreciate the leadership of FWP and all those involved to help recover this species,” said Dan Brewer of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Montana.
Trout anglers will see little impact on opportunity as steps are taken to address bull trout issues. Catch and release angling of bull trout is allowed in Lake Koocanusa and the South Fork Flathead River (above Hungry Horse Reservoir), and harvest of bull trout is still allowed in Hungry Horse Reservoir. These waterbodies remain strongholds of bull trout in Montana. However, FWP will explore opportunities to suppress non-native fish, such as lake trout and northern pike, to benefit bull trout, which could limit opportunity in some non-native sport fisheries where they overlap with important bull trout populations.