Beacon top weekly in Montana

The Flathead Beacon, the newspaper where my outdoors column runs, once again was named Montana’s best weekly newspaper. Frankly, the Beacon is the best newspaper, full stop, in the Treasure State, and one of the best in the Rocky Mountain region. Congrats to my colleagues back in Kalispell, who do a great job each week.

“Out of Bounds,” my weekly contribution, was earned first place in the “Sports and Outdoors Column” category. Here’s a link to the winning piece.

He kept I-90 wild

Among other things, apparently.

In addition to setting the standard on hunting ethics, it turns out Montana author Jim Posewitz had a hand in protecting the St. Regis River where it flows alongside I-90. This nice piece from Missoulian reporter Rob Chaney explains how Posewitz worked to keep the highway out of the river bottom as much as possible. The asphalt winds so the river could remain free, or at least freer than it might have been.

Lake trout may have arrived in Yellowstone on their own

A fisheries biologist has suggested that lake trout may have migrated to Yellowstone Lake on their own. There is a long established population of the fish in Jackson Lake, and those fish occasionally pass through the dam into the Snake River below.

Yellowstone National Park chief fisheries biologist, Todd Koel, said that from the Snake, the lake trout could have entered Pacific Creek. After a 40-mile swim upstream, the fish would have reached North Two Ocean Creek. That's where the creek parts, forming Pacific and Atlantic creeks. Atlantic Creek flows into Yellowstone Lake.

That's 80 miles, lake to lake. It's a long journey for lake trout, especially in small, high-elevation streams. But work in the Flathead system has shown lake trout are capable of long migrations. Some have travelled from Flathead Lake up the North Fork all the way to Canada. Others broke off the full migration to the land of politeness and hockey, following smaller streams flowing from Glacier National Park. This allowed the invading lake trout to displace the native, but less adaptable apex piscine predator, bull trout.

Research on the Flathead, Glacier lake trout invasion gives credence to the theory. Because of the work on the Flathead, we know lake trout are capable of making such long, exploratory forays into new habitat. We also know they are capable of making significant journeys up smaller, headwater type streams such as the ones that connect Glacier's lakes with the North Fork.

What's different about the migration theory for Yellowstone Lake's invasion is that most of the 80-mile journey is in the smaller waters of Pacific and Atlantic creeks. In the Flathead the bulk of the migration is in the larger North Fork, a waterway that is likely more appealing to lake dwelling lake trout.

Still, there's an unimpeded waterway from the Snake to the Yellowstone. In fact, it's the path the cutthroat trout likely followed during their ice age invasion from the Pacific watershed to the Atlantic.

The prevailing theory is lake trout were introduced to Yellowstone Lake by bucket biologists, ie. anglers who caught lake trout in nearby Lewis Lake, then dumped them into Yellowstone Lake.  Lewis Lake is also the source of the lake trout population in Jackson Lake.

Study: Montanans support for public lands strong, growing

A new survey by UM's Crown of the Continent and Greater Yellowstone Initiative shows strong, and even increasing support for public lands in Montana, said a Crown spokesman.

"Some of the results over the years have been very consistent, in fact, if anything, they’ve been going up in favor of public lands," said Rick Graetz, a UM geology lecturer, in a Montana Public Radio interview. "And we’ve had some surprises since 2014, and we’ve seen a huge number of people who recognize the economic benefits of public lands."

Five hundred registered voters were surveyed, and 90 percent said public lands have a positive impact on maintaining what is best about Montana, up from 83 percent when the survey was last conducted in 2016.

Respondents also recognized the important of sportsmen in driving awareness of public officials and their positions on conservation issues. It's no surprise, but the survey shows that Montanans are far more likely to fish and hunt than the average American. A majority of Montanans participate in both: 52 percent hunt compared to a national average of 28 percent, and 55 percent fish compared to 29 percent nationally.

 

The survey also indicated Montanan's oppose efforts by Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte to remove Wilderness Study Area protection for 29 sites in the state. Fifty-seven percent said they supported maintaining the current status for the study areas.

The pair challenged the conclusions of the study, saying the survey question failed to describe current management on the lands, as well as how it would change if their legislation was approved.

In 2009 Gianforte sued Montana to close a public access site on the East Gallatin River, claiming users were damaging his adjacent property. Gianforte dropped the suit after FWP upgraded trails and fencing at the site.