While the 22-acre Akokala Lake on the west side of Glacier National Park may be considered one of the lesser gems in the Crown of the Continent, it nevertheless plays an important role as a refuge for native fish in the Park ecosystem. In recent decades, the bloated population of lake trout in Flathead Lake has emigrated out into the wider watershed. Of the 12 lake systems on the west side of Glacier Park accessible by lake trout, 9 have been invaded by these nonnative fish replacing native predator fish populations. The three remaining lakes, including Akokala remain vulnerable to invasion.
A recent paper by USGS, and other scientists, highlights the spread of rainbow/cutthroat hybrids throughout the Flathead drainage spurred by our warming climate. A 2008 survey found a 100% pure population of westslope cutthroat trout in Akokala Lake along with a small, but important, population of native bull trout. Recent surveys have documented hybrid fish in lower sections of Akokala Creek. Akokala may also face invasion by nonnative brook trout which can interbreed with native bull trout.
Glacier National Park is currently spending millions of dollars to fight the invasion of nonnative species in the Park. Projects are currently proceeding at Quartz and Logging Lakes to suppress existing populations of nonnative lake trout and to restore populations of native bull trout and westslope cutthroats. A barrier was constructed on Quartz Creek to prevent re-invasion of of that system following the current suppression effort.
The National Park Service, along with Glacier National Park and the USGS Rocky Mountain Science Center are proposing the construction of a fish barrier on lower Akokala Creek to prevent any further invasion by nonnative fish. An Environmental Assessment has been prepared for construction of the barrier. This project would protect existing native fish populations in the Akokala drainage and provide a buffer to safeguard the precious genetic resources of the Park.
GNP is accepting public comment on the EA through July 7. You can submit comments on the NPS website, or send a hard copy to:
Superintendent, Glacier National Park
Attention: Akokala Fish Barrier
P.O. Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936
While migratory barriers are a far from perfect solution to nonnative fish invasion and genetic pollution problems, we have reached a point where we must face the danger of further threats to our native fish populations using currently available tools. The Flathead Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited encourages our members and friends to support this important step and to submit comments encouraging this project before July 7th. Thank you for your help in protecting our native fish populations.