August 29, 2017

The Big Hole Watershed Committee supports the French Creek Fish Barrier and native fish restoration project proposed by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for the Mount Haggin Wildlife Management Area.

The native fish barrier planned for French Creek will protect 40 miles of native fish habitat and create a safe haven publicly accessible for West Slope Cutthroat Trout and Arctic grayling. It will be the second largest native fish restoration project in the state.  The barrier is planned for construction this fall and on the heels of more than 5 years of habitat restoration work.

While the barrier boasts great gains for fish, it represents only a portion of the good work that has occurred over a short time and investment of several million dollars. In just five years,

  • Montana Department of Transportation repaired Highway 569, pulling the road away from delicate riparian areas and replacing culverts with large stream crossings for natural fish passage.
  • Natural Resources Damages Program, as part of the Superfund work related to the Anaconda Smelter Damages, supported repair of upland bare slopes including revegetation and gully repair on Sugar Loaf Mountain and California Creek areas.
  • Big Hole Watershed Committee and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks worked in partnership, including the support of many state and federal agencies, local residents, and local conservation groups, to restore portions of California Creek, French Gulch and Moose Creek for natural water storage, reduced sediment impacts, improved water quality, fish habitat and removal of historic mining impacts. More of this work is expected in coming years.

Let’s also include nearly 30 years of Arctic grayling restoration within the Upper Big Hole, of which Mount Haggin is included. Although in 2014 the US Fish and Wildlife Service determined the Arctic grayling was no longer considered a candidate for Endangered Species listing, pointing specifically to cooperative conservation at work in this valley as a direct indicator of long-term sustainability. While the fish is not considered recovered completely, US Fish and Wildlife Service certainly gave notice that we are headed in the right direction. We need to keep pace – continue drought management work to maintain flows, continue habitat restoration to provide cool, clear water for grayling, and continue to work together as a community to keep the upward trend in population. This project serves as a giant boon to this cause.

Even while the Big Hole River Drought Management Plan was enacted in 1997, the voluntary measures to maintain river flows and project the fishery in the mainstem of the river, voluntary reduction in water use and fishing only take us so far to weather dry years like this one. The only water we have is the water we can hold in the valley. The key is building a resilient watershed that can hold cold, clean water later into the summer and can provide a wide range of habitat for fish. This year, while we had a dry, hot summer, the river held on. That may some part have to do with thirty years of restoration work.  The barrier project and the extensive habitat restoration work, will all help hold cold, clean water and native fish in the Mount Haggin area like a natural savings account.

A few members of the public have scheduled a discussion for Thursday night, August 31, 2017 at 6pm at the Wise River Community Building citing discontent over the proposed project. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will present their information on the project. We encourage people interested in this work to attend or let Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks know your thoughts. An even greater need, talk to your friend and neighbors about this work and its importance. We’re a community. This work supports a greater good for us all to enjoy.

The Big Hole Watershed Committee was established in 1995 and represents diverse interests of the Big Hole River watershed, including anglers, ranchers, conservation groups and residents. In just over two decades, the group provide information and conducts direct restoration, investing millions of dollars directly into conservation for water, fish, wildlife, land use and more while also leading conservation in the state. Learn more at bhwc.org or contact us at 406-960-4855, or info@bhwc.org.

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