Well, now. It looks like a more serious effort is afoot (afloat?) to track river usage this summer . . .
The Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park are embarking on a joint plan this summer to track river use on the North and Middle Forks of the Flathead, with the eventual goal of crafting management plans for the Wild and Scenic rivers.
The initial plans date back to 1980 and 1986. Since then, visitor numbers to the region have surged, but the management plans have stayed untouched. In Glacier, nearly 3 million visited the Park last year. In 1986, Glacier saw a little more than 1.5 million visitors.
While anecdotal evidence indicates the rivers are getting more crowded with floaters and fishermen, the agencies don’t have baseline data for river usage, said Chris Prew, forest recreation program manager for the Flathead National Forest.
Creeks and rivers are very low across this corner of Montana . . .
The two primary tributaries of the Flathead River have the lowest streamflows on record for late August, further reflecting the extreme drought conditions that are tormenting the region in a year being defined by smoky skies and stingy weather.
Entering the final days of August, the Middle Fork Flathead River was running at 470 cubic feet per second, a new record surpassing the previous low set in 1940, according to the National Weather Service. The median flow for this time of year is 977 cfs.
The North Fork Flathead River was running at 628 cfs, surpassing the 2001 record low. The median flow is 1,260 cfs. The streamflows are the lowest since monitoring gauges were established 75 years ago, according to Ray Nickless, NWS hydrologist.
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.