Nov. 8, 2010

Two recent state reports on fisheries and upland wildlife habitat priorities may form the foundation for a long awaited restoration plan for the Upper Clark Fork River basin.

The reports – released jointly by the Natural Resource Damage Program and the Montana Dept. of Fish, Wildlife and Parks – look at funding priorities for restoration of the Clark Fork basin’s aquatic and terrestrial resources. In its new planning document, the NRDP Advisory Council recommended that the studies serve as the basis for making decisions in grant-making on future restoration projects.

At a public presentation in Bonner in September, Pat Saffel, a fisheries biologist for the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Dept., offered highlights of the report, the Prioritization of Tributaries in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin for Fishery Enhancement. Saffel said the report ranked tributaries to meet one or more of three fishery goals for the upper watershed:

  • Restore the mainstem fishery by improving recruitment of trout from tributaries;
  • Replace lost trout angling in the mainstem by improving trout populations and fishing opportunities in tributaries; and
  • Maintain or improve native fish populations.

In 2007 and 2008, FWP researchers gathered data from 242 sites on 112 streams in the upper Clark Fork River. FWP staff electro-fished the streams, identifying and measuring all fish, collected water temperatures, and assessed the riparian areas.

With the data gathered, the state prioritized the tributaries by looking at the value of the current fishery (based on the three state fishery goals) and rating the value of the habitat enhancement and protection. Of the 137 areas assessed, 75 rated as high or very high priorities. Then applying NRDP program guidelines, the state further narrowed the list to 48 priorities areas for habitat protection and enhancement projects.

The state also factored in preferences for projects in Reach A of the Clark Fork River, the stretch from Garrison Junction to the Warm Springs Ponds and projects focusing on the Goals 1 and 2. Conversely, Reaches B and C (from Garrison downstream to Milltown) and the goal aimed at restoring native fish, have been identified as a lesser priorities. So as a result of this complex rating system, areas such as German Gulch, a tributary to Silver Bow Creek, and Racetrack Creek, a feeder to the Clark Fork, receive high priority ratings.

And while the report prioritizes streams and sections, it doesn’t identify projects. (Those could come through the NRDP grant program.) Nor does the report look at the mainstem of the Clark Fork or Silver Bow Creek. And finally it only reflects priorities for NRDP funding – and not the entirety of FWP’s priorities for fishery work.

The second report, the Upper Clark Fork River Basin Terrestrial Wildlife Resource Prioritization, is largely a mapping effort that looked at wildlife priority areas in the 2.3 million acre upper watershed. Presenting at the Bonner meeting, FWP biologist Ray Vinkey outlined the report. Similar to the aquatic study, the terrestrial prioritization will serve to direct NRDP funds to specific landscapes. Under NRDP guidelines, the state has three goals:

  • Replace injured terrestrial wildlife resources by protecting and enhancing habitats in the basin that are similar to those injured;
  • Replace lost hunting, wildlife viewing, bird watching and other wildlife-related outdoor recreational opportunities by enhancing wildlife habitat, and consequently, wildlife populations, and ensuring public access to these wildlife resources;
  • Restore the injured terrestrial resources and associated ecological and wildlife-related recreational services.

The wildlife prioritization effort focuses on the first two replacement goals. Looking at the entire basin, the state assessed the most desirable acquisitions, giving top priority to:

  • riparian areas, wetlands and aspen groves throughout the basin
  • low-elevation private lands in the valley bottoms and foothills
  • larger habitat patches

In total, the state identified 156,800 acres as Priority 1 areas, mostly located on the east side of the Deer Lodge Valley and in the John Long Mountains that form a divide between Rock Creek and Flint Creek. The state’s recent acquisition of the Spotted Dog Ranch between Deer Lodge and Elliston was cited as a prime example of an ideal replacement project.

Public comment on them will be accepted through November 30. Send comments to NRDP, P.O. Box 201425, Helena, MT, 5962-1425 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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