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FWP proposes westslope cutthroat trout restoration on creek in Elkhorns


FWP proposes westslope cutthroat trout restoration on creek in Elkhorns

Feb 26, 2024 | 6:32 pm ET
By Blair Miller
FWP proposes westslope cutthroat trout restoration on creek in Elkhorns
Photograph of Dutchman Creek during summer fish sampling downstream of National Forest Boundary on the private (Madison Ranch) property. (Photo via FWP)

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is taking public comments and will host a meeting this week on a proposal to kill off brook trout in a creek in the Elkhorn Mountains to restore native westslope cutthroat to a broader stretch of the creek.

The proposed project comes at an important time, according to FWP, which said the current population of cutthroat trout in Dutchman Creek, which flows into Prickly Pear Creek, could be eliminated within five years if the project does not move forward. The westslope cutthroat is Montana’s state fish.

A 1981 study found there were only westslope cutthroat trout in the creek with runs through mostly U.S. Forest Service land but also through private property, but that brook trout coming up from Prickly Pear Creek had started to displace them except in a two-mile stretch above a boulder field where the creek goes underground.

More than a year ago, crews removed all the cutthroat trout out of that upper stretch and moved them to another creek to preserve the population in the hopes that the project would move forward.

The proposal involves building a fish barrier on private land this spring that is downstream of the underground stretch, removing the remaining cutthroat in the full 3.5-mile stretch that includes the private land next fall, and then killing off the existing brook trout before reintroducing cutthroat in 2026 above the fish barrier.

A draft environmental assessment for the project says the proposal would help preserve the existing cutthroat trout in the creek, expand their range, and keep healthy populations of westslope cutthroat trout within the Upper Missouri River Basin.

“The WCT in Dutchman Creek would shift from an ‘at-risk’ population to one that is secure and will be resilient for generations to come,” the assessment says. “This project would conserve the unique genetic legacy of WCT in Dutchman Creek and add to the long-term conservation of the species.”

FWP is hosting a public meeting on the proposal at 6 p.m. on Feb. 29 at the Montana WILD Education Center in Helena, where it will also be accepting written comments. People can also submit comments on the environmental assessment by emailing [email protected].