Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will continue efforts to suppress rainbow trout and hybrid trout populations in the upper Flathead River system.
Region One Supervisor Jim Satterfield signed a finding of no significant impact for the work Monday.
That basically approves plans to continue removing hybrids and rainbows from the mouths and channels of Abbot, Sekokini, Rabe, Ivy and Third creeks in the main stem Flathead and North Flathead rivers.
The work involves trapping and electrofishing to remove rainbows and hybrids during their spawning season, from April through May, and moving the fish to community fishing ponds.
More trapping and electrofishing will occur between July and September to remove hybrid and rainbow trout offspring.
The goal is to minimize the impacts of hybridization on native westslope cutthroat trout populations in the Flathead River system.
The project has been met with criticism and skepticism from anglers who regard rainbows as wild fish that should be part of the Flathead River’s recreational fishery.
According to Satterfield, “I acknowledge and appreciate the comments submitted in opposition to the project, but I believe the issues raised were adequately addressed and accounted for” in an environmental analysis that was open to public comment from February through March 8.
Some project critics questioned whether it will be effective in protecting westslope populations.
The state acknowledges in its assessment that while “complete eradication of hybrid trout is not possible in a large interconnected system, such as the Flathead, results to date indicate that hybrid and rainbow spawner abundance can be significantly reduced at source tributaries.”
Rainbow suppression work has been under way on the river since 2000, but it was mostly confined to Abbot Creek, a highly productive rainbow spawning tributary.
The project is estimated to cost about $9,500 annually, with the money coming from the Bonneville Power Administration’s fish and wildlife program for mitigating damages caused by the construction of federal hydropower projects such as Hungry Horse Dam.