I have to respond to the column titled “Deadly Choice” by George Ochenski in the Sept. 9, 2010, issue of the Independent.
He starts with a video of a plane wiping out everything in its path in a high mountain lake and calls it a disaster. He then coins the phrase “poison and plant” for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ (FWP) mission.
I was just like him in 2005 when I first heard about this project in the South Fork Flathead. I was livid about the use of poison and killing fish for no good reason. But instead of just griping I volunteered for the Region 1 FWP CAC (Citizens Advisory Committee) to straighten out the project. Boy, information can change one’s perspective. What I found was 10 years of surveys, study and research, an environmental impact study, and very professional and conscientious biologists. I’m now a supporter.
Mr. Ochenski then accuses FWP of “playing God” by trying to fix what was broken by well-meaning but misguided fish plants 70 years ago. I say they’re just doing their job by removing the threat of hybrid fish, which are the same as dead fish under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Westslope cutthroat are now found in less than 10 percent of their historic range and the South Fork is half of that so it has to stay pure. But it’s not just about ESA—I hear FWP talk about cutthroat as part of our natural heritage and they’ve been working on native fish recovery for more than 40 years. What would it say about us as Montanans if we let our state fish get listed under our watch?
In fall 2007 Black and Blackfoot lakes were treated, and in summer 2008 the lakes were replanted with pure strain westslope cutthroat trout. I wanted to see for myself, so in July 2009 I asked to go with Matt Boyer and Linda Fried on a post-treatment survey of Blackfoot Lake. Being partially disabled it was a struggle to keep up with long-legged Matt. But if I can do it, Ochenski can—and he should before he starts condemning the program and FWP. All I can say is, it was way more than I had hoped for.
I saw both frogs and tadpoles, and watched Linda sample an amazing number and variety of aquatic bugs. I then proceeded to catch a batch of westslope cutthroat—a couple of 8–10 inchers, then a 12 incher, and finally a beautiful 16-inch pure westslope cutthroat. I can’t put into the words how much it means that my grandkids will get the same chance.