Cherry Creek Restoration: TU Response to Outdoor Life article
6/30/1999 -- -- Montana TU and the George Grant Chapter support the project because it is a low-risk landscape level restoration project that can benefit westslope cutthroat trout in the Upper Missouri basin, where the species' numbers are perilously low. An ESA listing on the Upper Missouri WSCT would be a no brainer. We are down to just a handful of small, isolated pure-strain populations. And we don't have that many more populations of lightly introgressed populations. These fish are in trouble.
The Cherry Creek project is a good one because it involves a cooperative landowner who is also willing to fund most of the project. But most importantly, if the project succeeds it could produce more than 60 miles of interconnected habitat for westslope cutthroats, thereby constituting the largest piece of westslope country east of the Divide.
The article sensationalizes the fact that antimycin, rotenone and potassium permanganate will be used. The article implies a parallel with Lake Davis. The differences, though, are huge. In some systems, we'd be somewhat worried about the use of rotenone, but not here. First, the lower 8 miles of Cherry Creek will not be restored for cutthroats, thereby leaving a buffer between the project area and the Madison. A barrier waterfall occurs at this spot, which ensures rainbows and browns won't access the restored reaches. In addition, turbulence created by the falls will help hydrolize toxicants that may drift down. Potassium permanganate, if necessary, will be applied as an additional detoxification agent. It's probable there will be some macroinvertebrate mortality. But in this region it's generally recognized that recolonization is pretty swift. At least if you control other water quality parameters, such as sediment and temperature. Amphibians might be affected in the short-term, which is a concern. However, the likelihood of disastrous results is minimized because toxicant application time, as far as I can tell, won't coincide with the period when larval-forms -- the most susceptible -- are present.
Nobody lives anywhere near this project. The nearest drinking water source is probably at least 20 miles away on ranches on the lower Madison. Human health is not an issue, thought some critics cited in the article who drink water in Butte (!) tried to make a big deal about it. As I pointed out at public hearings on this project, agriculture in Montana uses far more toxicants of more insidious nature every year in irrigation ditches that drain to fisheries. I've strained dead trout out of ditches around Missoula and in the Bitterroot after applications of herbicides. But the critics of the Cherry Creek project haven't seemed bothered by this activity.
The biggest opponents of this project have been some sporting types from Butte and Three Forks. A few of these guys I have worked with for years and even consider friends. The most vocal, however, are hardcore anti-Turnerians. They flat hate Ted, and see him as the penultimate wealthy out-of-stater who is buying Montana and "locking the public out" (of private land). No matter what he's involved in they'd be critical. Interestingly, the Flying D has never been all that public friendly. Previous owners were pretty hostile to the public. Very little of the drainage, and mainly that in the FS owned headwaters, is public land. So, despite what the article says or implies, this is not about a popular fishery being trashed or privatized by a private landowner. Not many people have been able to fish Cherry Creek anyway (though it is accessed through our stream access law, which requires travel within the high-water mark). Some critics claim it is the case of a private landowner creating a private fishery. But that's not Turners deal. He can fish anywhere in the world. We believe a successful project could create an important conservation area for these fish. They could eventually drift into the Madison, which certainly could use a few more trout.
The attorney the opponents have hired to stop the use of toxicants using a clean water suit is the same guy who for years has helped weaken Montana's Water Quality Act on behalf of the mining industry, the real professionals in Montana when it comes to poisoning fish. This guy is exploiting this project for bigger gains on behalf of real polluters. The article treats him as a good guy.
The article doesn't really examine the nuances of salmonid management or conservation in Montana. Despite some attempt to discuss the plight of native fish, it largely furthers the point of view that a trout is a trout -- native, non-native, wild or rubber. Cutthroats, generally speaking, are more popular here to anglers than brook trout. Though Cherry Creek has browns and Yellowstone cutthroats, both populations have never been fished heavily. And they are more readily available to fish elsewhere. The article also sends the message that this restoration project is the opening shot in a battle to convert all our popular non-native trout fisheries into less desirable native fisheries. Wrong. Even if it was technically possible (it isn't), the future of trout conservation in Montana will largely be a case of zoning. Some -- not all -- small order tribs will be dedicated to native fish. But the main-stems will continue to be mixed fisheries or non-native fisheries. This will balance the desires of anglers as well as our obligation to conserve native fish (the Westslope is Montana's state fish).
This project does have a few elements that we question. First, it requires use of an electric motor at Cherry Lake (the headwaters), which is in the federally designated Lee Metcalf Wilderness. Use of motorized eqipment in wilderness is prohibited unless approved by the FS regional office as the "minimal tool necessary" for the job. This is one of the unfortunate concessions for this project. It is a precedent and it has attracted opposition. I don't like TU having to support this. Also, the restoration plan now includes re-stocking Cherry Lake with larger cutthroats, in order to satisfy a complaining outfitter. We don't support this. Finally, the restoration will involve two cutthroat genotypes -- one a mongrel mix from the Washoe hatchery in Anaconda, the other from a "nearest neighbor" population, which to my knowledge has yet to be identified. They will be planted in separate tribs of Cherry Creek and may the best fish win. This project will be a genetic experiment, an unfortunate consequence of the limbo fishery professionals are in when it comes to figuring out how to deal with maintaining aboriginal strains in the face of precipitous population decline.
But all in all, the only real risk with this project is that it could fail. We can't see any harmful consequences to the stream system. If westslopes don't take, it certainly won't be difficult to re-establish other species.
I hope this helps respond to questions or criticism we get about Cherry Creek.
Bruce Farling Executive Director, Montana Trout Unlimited