Trout Unlimited to honor Glacier Park fisheries biologist

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Glacier Park fisheries biologist Chris Downs on a Glacier Park stream survey. (Photo provided)

Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited will formally honor Glacier National Park’s Chris Downs on May 20 at the chapter’s annual banquet in Whitefish. Downs, a fisheries management biologist, will be honored with a commemorative plaque and letter.

Downs and others have led Park efforts to reduce lake trout populations in Quartz and Logging Lakes, construct barriers to prevent upstream movement of non-native fish, and translocate bull trout to Grace Lake. TU calls Downs’ work an example of adaptive management in light of changing climate conditions.

“Every year the chapter recognizes a person making a difference with coldwater fish conservation,” chapter president Larry Timchak noted. “The work (Downs and others) are doing is noteworthy. It’s a long-term effort that takes a lot of perseverance and dedication.”

Downs has two big ongoing projects in the Park to protect and conserve native trout while reducing the populations of non-native species.

In Quartz Lake, he and others continue to suppress lake trout populations, keeping them at an abundance level where they don’t affect native bulls and cutthroats. Fish barriers and suppression have proven to be highly viable and successful conservation techniques, Downs said in a recent interview.

He’s also working on a bull trout translocation project, which began in 2014. The Park biologists “rescued” the few remaining juvenile bull trout from Logging Creek and moved them higher in the drainage system to Grace Lake, above the waterfall.

“It’s a different way to tackle the same problem,” Downs remarked.

Translocation is a new approach to bull trout conservation, and will be less expensive than lake trout suppression in the long run.

The juvenile bulls were moved from Logging Lake, where the native population is virtually extinct due to non-native invasive trout, to Grace Lake.

The idea is to establish secure populations upstream, where the non-native threat is basically non-existent and where native populations can better resist and adapt to climate change. Quartz Creek juvenile bulls will also be moved to Grace Lake, so there will be ample native genes available for the new population.

In 2015, the translocation project was featured on Montana National Public Radio.

In addition to working on lake trout suppression and bull trout translocation, Downs is also collaborating with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and other agencies to establish a secure westslope cutthroat trout population in the Camas Creek drainage, thus eliminating the non-native Yellowstone cutthroat trout from the North Fork.

Downs hopes that this effort will simultaneously reduce the threat of cutthroat hybridization with non-native rainbow trout.

Downs is in his ninth year working for the Park Service. Before coming to Glacier, he worked for Idaho Fish and Game.

He has a master’s degree in fish and wildlife management from Montana State University. He moved west from Massachusetts in 1991 and fell in love with the hunting and fishing.

He’s flattered by TU’s decision to recognize his conservation work.

“I’m quite honored that this chapter would think of me as deserving of their award and recognition,” he said. “They’re a group of passionate folks who give time and money to conserve our native trout species. It’s an organization that I have a great amount of respect for.”

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