Confederated Salish-Kootenai Tribes are poised to move forward with a controversial
lake trout suppression plan on Flathead Lake, with gill netting tentatively set
to begin as early as April.
tribes published a final environmental impact statement in the Federal Register
on Feb. 21 and public input on the document must be submitted by March 21. The
Tribal Council is widely expected to issue a record of decision approving the
project soon after that deadline.
Hansen, the lead tribal biologist on the project, said an implementation plan
is being drafted, tentatively setting a goal of removing 90,000 to 100,000 lake
trout from the lake this year through general angling, the spring and fall Mack
Days fishing events and gill netting.
tentative target for gill netting this year is about 30,000 lake trout, but
Hansen said that could be adjusted depending on angler success or other
stressed that the concept of “adaptive management” will be at the center of
implementing the project.
is not a blind charge forward,” he said. “It is the same progression we’ve done
for the last 14 years with a new tool (gill netting) that we will apply
carefully and incrementally. And there will be plenty of opportunity for people
to see the results.”
have the most latitude, the tribes are pursuing the most aggressive of four
alternative approaches outlined in the environmental impact study. That calls
for removing up to 143,000 lake trout every year to achieve a 75 percent
reduction in lake trout abundance over 50 years. The cost is estimated at
around $934,000 per year.
a lot of latitude in how we proceed, both in scale and timelines,” Hansen said,
stressing that the environmental impact study does not bind the tribes to
remove as many as 143,000 lake trout per year.
harvest targets could vary substantially from year to year, depending on a
variety of factors, and the tribes will take input from the public and other
agencies in determining annual goals, Hansen said.
main purpose of the project is to benefit native bull trout by suppressing the
numbers of non-native lake trout, which have become a dominant predator in the
Flathead Lake and river system. Introduced in the early 1900s, lake trout have
gradually displaced a bull trout population that is now estimated to number
only 3,000 adult fish.
Fish, Wildlife and Parks initially was involved with development of a draft
environmental impact study for the project, but the agency withdrew as a
co-signer, citing concerns about the content and process involved in developing
the tribes and the state were involved with a co-management plan for Flathead
Lake that expired in 2010, and the two entities have a major disagreement over
one aspect of that plan — maintaining bull trout at “secure” population levels.
Those levels are partly defined by a minimum threshold of redds, or bull trout
spawning beds, that have long been surveyed in upstream tributaries.
state maintains that bull trout are now 50 percent above “secure” levels and
the co-management plan did not call for moving toward aggressive lake trout
suppression measures such as gill netting unless bull trout dropped below
tribes, however, have a different view.
said the overriding goal of the plan was to pursue measures to increase native
trout populations, and the efforts that have been undertaken since the plan was
adopted in 2000 have not been successful in attaining that goal.
bull trout above “secure” population was not a goal, he said. “Increasing
native trout, that is the real and meaningful goal to us, not ‘secure.’ That is
final environmental impact study, with more than 400 pages, can be downloaded
at the Mack Days website, where comments may also be submitted.
site can be found at http://www.mackdays.com/DEIS