The Northwest Power and Conservation Council added a fish and wildlife protection plan for the Blackfoot River in western Montana to its Columbia River Basin Fish and Wildlife Program this week, paving the way for potential funding to improve fish and wildlife habitat and production.
“The Blackfoot River has a strong history of locally led conservation and restoration efforts, and this subbasin plan represents another positive, collaborative effort by private landowners, government agencies, and public interest groups to benefit fish and wildlife in the basin,” Chair Bruce Measure, a Montana member of the Council, said.
Dick Wallace, a Washington member and vice chair of the Council, joined other Council members in supporting adoption of the plan, a vote that for him was personal as well as professional.
“As a Montana native who grew up around the Blackfoot, I am pleased to see this plan come together for the protection of fish and wildlife in this beautiful river,” Wallace said.
The Blackfoot plan is posted on the Council’s website at this location: http://bit.ly/epJk3S
Subbasin plans identify and prioritize restoration and protection strategies for habitat and fish and wildlife populations. The Blackfoot Subbasin Plan was developed collaboratively by a wide range of stakeholders including private landowners and representatives from public agencies and non-government organizations, as well as individuals.
The Blackfoot Subbasin encompasses 1.5 million acres (2,345 square miles) in portions of four northwest Montana counties: Lewis and Clark, Powell, Missoula and Granite. Elevations in the subbasin range from 9,202 feet on Scapegoat Peak to 3,280 feet near Bonner, Mont., where the Blackfoot enters the Clark Fork River.
A tributary of the Columbia River, the free-flowing Blackfoot River flows 132 miles from its headwaters near Rogers Pass on the Continental Divide to its confluence. According to the Montana Natural Heritage Program database there are 41 animal “Species of Concern” in the Blackfoot Subbasin, including invertebrates, birds, fish, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
Eight of the 14 bird species ranked by Montana Partners in Flight as Level I priority species in the state are found in the subbasin: common loon, trumpeter swan, harlequin duck, Columbian sharptailed grouse, black-backed woodpecker, flammulated owl, olive-sided flycatcher and brown creeper.
Federally listed animal species found in the subbasin include the threatened bull trout, grizzly bear, Canada lynx and the gray wolf, which was delisted from endangered status in March 2009 and subsequently re-listed in 2010 after litigation in federal court. The subbasin is also home to the bald eagle, which was delisted from threatened status in July 2007, and the fisher, which is a candidate for listing.
Because of its rural and largely intact nature, the Blackfoot Subbasin retains the full complement of large mammals, including black bear, elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, wolverine and a wide variety of small mammals. There are currently 12 native fish species and 13 non-native fish species in the Blackfoot Subbasin, as well as several hybrid salmonids.
With addition of the Blackfoot plan, there are 58 subbasin plans in the Council’s fish and wildlife program, including plans for three other river basins in Montana, the Bitterroot, Flathead, and Kootenai.
Subbasin plans include an assessment of fish, wildlife, and habitat and thus provide the context for the Council and its Independent Scientific Review Panel to evaluate and recommend projects for funding to implement the fish and wildlife program. The program is designed to mitigate the impacts of hydropower dams on fish and wildlife in the Columbia River basin.
The program also addresses impacts not caused by hydropower, such as in river basins like the Blackfoot and Bitterroot. The Northwest Power Act, the federal law that directs the Council’s activities, authorizes offsite -- away from the dams -- protection and mitigation measures to compensate for fish and wildlife losses arising from the development and operation of the dams.
The Council is an agency of the states of Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington and is charged by the Northwest Power Act of 1980 to assure the Northwest an adequate, efficient, economical, and reliable electric power supply while also protecting, mitigating, and enhancing fish and wildlife affected by the construction and operation of hydropower dams on the Columbia River and its tributaries.