Poisoning a stream back to life

  • Cherry Falls

    Pat Clancey photo/Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
  A plan to poison a 77-mile-long trout stream on Ted Turner's Flying D Ranch in southwest Montana is raising the hackles of some unlikely critics. The plan is the brainchild of the state of Montana, which hopes it will bolster westslope cutthroat trout populations and ward off a federal listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Cherry Creek, a tributary of the Madison River, has thriving populations of non-native trout, including brown, rainbow and Yellowstone cutthroats, but the native westslope cutthroat are on the decline. Before stocking the stream with native fish, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks intends to use two toxins, antimycin and rotenone, to kill non-native fish.

It's a strategy that has met with success on several other streams, says state regional fisheries manager Steve Lewis, and should pose no long-term health threats to humans or wildlife. Turner Enterprises would contribute nearly $350,000 to help pay for the project; the state would pay about $90,000. Without Turner's money, notes Lewis, there would be no way to go ahead with the five-year project.

The Montana Council of Trout Unlimited has come out in favor of the plan. "It's a rare opportunity," says Laura Ziemer of TU. "What's ironic is that the scope of the project, which is one of the things that makes it attractive, has also raised the profile. But the only thing that's new about (this operation) is the scale."

Nonetheless, Bill Fairhurst of the Public Lands Access Association has teamed up with the Montana Mining Association to protest the project. Some call this outpouring of environmental concern a thinly veiled attack on Turner, who, like previous owners, limits access to Cherry Creek. In the meantime, at the behest of the downstream town of Three Forks, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality has begun an environmental assessment of the plan, pushing its start back to September at the earliest.

*Dan Oko
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