Glacier Prk takes comments on fish plan

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In spring 2016, Glacier National Park conducted public scoping for a proposed Fisheries Management, Aquatics Restoration, and Climate Change Response Plan and draft Environmental Impact Statement. The Park received 16 public comment letters expressing both support and opposition for the proposal, and has summarized and analyzed the comments.

The scoping brochure released last year notes that within Park boundaries, there are 725 lakes and ponds, over 174 perennial marshes and wetlands, and 1500 miles of perennial stream. These aquatic ecosystems support a variety of amphibians and invertebrates as well as 17 native fish species, including the westslope cutthroat trout, a state-listed Species of Concern, and the bull trout, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

But Glacier’s aquatic ecosystems are under threat by the increasing effects of climate change and by non-native invasive fish and other aquatic organisms.

The purpose of the Park’s fisheries and climate change plan/EIS is to develop an integrated and adaptive approach to the restoration and conservation of native aquatic species and their habitats across the park, and to provide guidance for future management actions.

The objectives outlined in the plan are: maintain the park’s native aquatic ecosystems where they remain intact; improve resiliency and security for native aquatic species confronted with the effects of climate change; restore altered aquatic ecosystems to historic (1910) conditions where possible; protect native fish populations from the effects of non-native invasive species; continue the park’s collaborative contribution to conservation and AIS prevention; and conserve and maintain the natural condition and unique ecological value of the park’s wilderness.

The plan’s proposed conservation actions to protect native aquatic species are native fish translocation to more secure habitats, non-native fish removal through mechanical – netting, trapping, angling, and electrofishing – and chemical – using the state and federally-approved fish toxicant rotenone – methods, and repopulation of native fish in some waters after non-native fish removal. In other waters that were historically fishless, the Park would allow amphibians and native zooplankton to recover. They would also construct fish passage barriers to prevent the movement of non-native fish, and establish a fishing permit fee to fund fishery restoration and conservation. Finally, the plan would continue collaboration with Park neighbors to prevent AIS establishment.

In addition to the proposed actions, the NPS will consider a no-action alternative, an alternative that would include the same elements as the proposed action but use mechanical methods only to remove non-native fish, and an alternative that uses chemical methods only to remove non-native fish.

In general, public comments that opposed the proposed plan expressed concern about impacts to wilderness character, with helicopters and fish barriers potentially detracting from the integrity of the wilderness, and manipulation of biological communities, such as relocating native fish to new waters. The public was also concerned about the effects of fish toxicants on native species, downstream environments, and water quality, as well as wildlife that could feed on treated fish carcasses. Many comments recommended that the Park Service consider the effects of sinking dead fish on oxygen levels in lakes, and conduct a study to evaluate safe oxygen thresholds. Additionally, people raised concerns about repeated toxicant use.

Other concerns dealt with the potential for native fish by-catch with gillnetting, impacts to low visitor use areas and habitats used seasonally by wildlife, and the affordability of fishing permits and opportunities for anglers.

The public urged the Park service to make permits affordable for seniors, youth, and locals, to allow only single barbless hooks, and to implement a “catch and kill” program with high limits for non-native fish while putting a freeze on fishing of native trout.

Comments also reflected concern about the effects of fish barriers and translocation on other native species, and about the effectiveness of AIS inspection as a preventative measure.

With comments taken into account, a draft plan and environmental impact statement is anticipated to be released for public review by the end of 2017.

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