One has to wonder if there’s a connection between the administrative uproar over a pilot program to combat invasive mussels in Flathead Lake and the defunding for supposed budgetary reasons of the organization tasked to oversee the program.
Anyway, here’s a good summary of the situation as it stands right now . . .
A legislatively mandated program aimed at enhancing protection from invasive mussels entering the Flathead Basin is beset with challenges as the group charged with implementing the plan has had its budget dissolved, while two state agencies say its key provisions cannot legally be implemented.
As part of House Bill 622, a bill introduced by four Flathead lawmakers, the Legislature gave the Flathead Basin Commission authority to establish and manage the Upper Columbia aquatic invasive species (AIS) pilot program. The program would add more certification stations in the Flathead Basin, track vessels that require decontamination, and add the use of automated inspection and detection devices.
The pilot program would have been paid for by requiring boat owners launching boats in the basin to purchase a sticker, which was expected to raise between $1 million and $1.5 million and pay for additional inspection stations.
Thompson Smith, former chair and a three-term governor appointed citizen member of the Flathead Basin Commission, has an excellent op-ed posted to the Flathead Beacon this week concerning the potential de-funding of the Flathead Basin Commission . . .
Montana’s crown jewel is in imminent danger from a plan to marginalize the Flathead Basin Commission (FBC) and force out its excellent Executive Director Caryn Miske.
John Tubbs, director of the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC), recently proposed zeroing out the entire staff budget of the FBC. The official reason is that the budget impasse between Democrats and Republicans is now forcing agencies to cut 10 percent. That doesn’t pass the smell test. Within the DNRC, only the FBC is being targeted for a cut exceeding 70 percent – even though it constitutes just two-tenths of one percent of the department’s total budget. In fact, the proposed cut would actually result in Montana losing funding, because every year the FBC’s Miske has raised well over a half-million dollars in grant funds to bolster protection of the Flathead from the menace of aquatic invasive species (AIS).
Here’s a long but important article on the past, present and future of the Flathead Basin Commission . . .
Long before Montana’s state government created the Flathead Basin Commission to safeguard its waters, sprawling coal deposits lay hidden in the wilds of British Columbia, untapped and untouched. They ran in seams beneath a skinny track of wilderness just north of Glacier National Park, at a site overlooking the Canadian Flathead River, which spills south, crosses the international boundary and becomes the North Fork Flathead River.
Against all odds, that coal remains hidden today — still entombed in the strata, thanks in large part to the region’s foremost water-quality watchdog group. But even as the transboundary Flathead enjoys permanent protections from future mining or drilling, the fate of the legislatively established Flathead Basin Commission hangs in limbo due to looming budget cuts that threaten to render the group inoperable.
On the heels of slumping state revenue and skyrocketing firefighting costs, Gov. Steve Bullock is directing most state agency directors to trim 10 percent from their budgets. To achieve that goal, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation Director John Tubbs has recommended cutting the Flathead Basin Commission’s entire budget for fiscal year 2018, which totaled $148,932, as well as its budget for fiscal year 2019.
Evidence of invasive mussels at Tiber Reservoir last November triggered an extensive survey for Flathead Lake. So far, so good . . .
The Flathead Lake Biological Station reported that more than 130 water samples from 30 locations on the lake came back negative for invasive mussels, researchers said Friday.
Following the November 2016 announcement of the first detections of invasive zebra or quagga mussels, the Flathead Lake Biological Station, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Flathead Lakers immediately collected and analyzed more than 130 environmental DNA (eDNA) samples from across Flathead Lake. The results for all of the samples did not identify any traces of the aquatic invaders, the research facility’s staff announced Feb. 17. However, lack of detection does not prove that the mussels have not arrived in the Flathead system, according to a news release from the station.
In addition to being analyzed at Professor Gordon Luikart’s Montana Conservation Genetics Lab on the University of Montana campus, the samples were also sent to an independent U.S. Geological Survey lab in Wisconsin with years of experience working on zebra and quagga mussels. The Wisconsin lab’s results are also all negative for mussels, confirming the results from Luikart’s lab, researchers stated.
Bull trout numbers are down due to competition from non-native lake trout in Flathead Lake. There’s some head-butting over the best fix for the problem . . .
Two biologists from two different government agencies agree on one thing — bull trout numbers in the Flathead appear to be stable. But they differ on the future of the native fish.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologist Tom Weaver says bull trout redd counts show a stable population over the past 10 years, and some spawning streams in the North Fork, particularly Coal Creek, saw a surge in numbers this year.
Biologists count spawning beds, called redds, each fall to gauge how many adults are returning to streams each year and the overall health of the bull trout population. The higher the count, the more robust the population. This year, biologists counted 225 redds in the North Fork and Middle Fork tributaries, compared to 229 last year and 189 one year earlier. But those numbers pale in comparison to the early 1980s when numbers ranged from 300 to as many as 600 in 1982.
The latest bull trout redd count is in line with recent years, but still well below what it should be . . .
State biologists found 500 bull trout spawning sites in the North and Middle Forks of the Flathead River this fall, indicating about 1,500 trout made the migration from Flathead Lake.
That’s not as good as the early 1980s before bull trout populations in Flathead Lake started to crash, but much better than the 1990s after federal authorities designated the fish a threatened species, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman John Fraley.
“We’ve done this count for 33 years,” Fraley said. “It gives us an idea how the bull trout spawners are doing. We’re about 57 percent of what we were in 1980, but well above the lows of the mid-’90s. That’s encouraging to us.”
However, federal officials monitoring bull trout recovery in Flathead Lake say the annual number doesn’t tell the whole story.
A proposed bill to release federal roadless and wilderness study areas to local management and development is gathering lengthy lists of supporters and opponents, even though it’s stalled in Congress . . .
How would Flathead Lake’s complex food web and ecology change if an aggressive netting project started removing 140,000 lake trout every year?
That is considered an important question that has yet to be answered, but it is a subject being addressed in a study being conducted for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes as part of an environmental review for a proposed lake trout netting project on the lake . . .
Dave Hadden, director of Headwaters Montana, Robin Steinkraus, executive director of the Flathead Lakers and Will Hammerquist, program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association’s Glacier Field Office have a nice commentary piece in today’s Flathead Beacon . . .
Here in Montana, August brings us the county fair and farm harvests. And this year we also celebrate a harvest of victories for Glacier National Park, the North Fork Flathead River and Flathead Lake. In addition to commemorating Glacier’s first 100 years, citizens from across the Montana-British Columbia border, Gov. Brian Schweitzer, B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester did yeoman’s work to protect this special place.