In a master stroke of propaganda, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 1 put out a news release last week for the annual bull trout redd counts for the North and Middle forks of the Flathead River.
The press release reports the redd numbers in glowing terms, stating that “This rebound is encouraging and indicates the current bull trout population is relatively stable.” And, “this translates to several million eggs deposited in the gravels of North and Middle Fork Flathead tributaries.” Given the upbeat language in the FWP release, how could you help but think things are just hunky dory for threatened bull trout in the Flathead? Of course, news outlets fully took the bait with headlines like this;
KAJ TV reported that “The latest surveys by biologists show the number of endangered bull trout in the upper reaches of the Flathead Basin hitting a new milestone.”
One slight problem; First of all, the press release came without the actual redd count data. Second, the reported 500 redds basinwide is not the actual count made in the index reaches. 500 is the number of tallied index redds expanded to what the math says it would be if if the whole basin had been counted. Which it was not. When looking at the actual numbers, it’s pretty easy to see that the redd counts are pretty much the same as they have been for quite a few years. Up a bit last year and down slightly this year. This year’s redd count in the index reaches was actually down slightly from the count last year and about the same as it was in 2008. Last year, FWP counted 229 redds in the index reaches. This year the count was 225, really not much change.
There was some good news, the count in the North Fork Flathead was up slightly over last year, although that was starting from a dismal count last year of only 58 redds with some tributaries reporting counts in the single digits. This year’s count on the North Fork only continues the decades-long trend of declining numbers. The Middle Fork Flathead counts were down a bit but again, that was from a pretty high count in 2012. So, looking at the data, it’s pretty easy to see that there really wasn’t much change in the numbers of spawning bull trout. Our native fish continue to face real and serious problems in the Flathead watershed. Not least among those being predation and competition from an overabundant lake trout population in Flathead Lake.
FWP is currently in negotiations with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes over management of Flathead Lake. The CSKT has proposed suppressing the bloated mackinaw population to restore some balance to the lake fishery and give our native bull trout and cutthroat trout some room to grow and FVTU supports that effort. FWP is opposed to any strategy that would reduce lake trout by even one fish. It is to the advantage of the state fishery folks to make it seem that everything is just rosy for our native fish and that there is no reason for reducing the lake trout population. It’s too bad that FWP chose to not release the actual numbers along with their propaganda statement, but what you need to remember is that what they are saying and what’s really happening in the watershed don’t necessarily always jive. FVTU encourages you to ask questions when you see these cheery statements from FWP. This year’s count is not a “rebound” nor does it represent “strong numbers” or a “positive result” and it certainly is no “milestone”. Always ask to see the real numbers and don’t rely on how the data are described by either side that has a finger in the pie.