Federal agencies plan to kill all the rainbow trout in a popular drainage just north of Yellowstone Park and replace them with native cutthroats, but they want to hear from the public first.
The Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are considering wiping out rainbow trout in Montana’s Buffalo Creek drainage just north of Yellowstone in the Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness of Custer-Gallatin National Forest.
The Park Service is taking public comments on the proposal.
Avid angler Kathy Buchner of Jackson told Cowboy State Daily she’s familiar with the area, though she hasn’t fished there yet.
Her initial reaction is that it might be a good idea, since native cutthroat trout have struggled for so long in their home waters.
“I would just as soon see more room made for native trout,” she said.
Buchner is the council chair for Wyoming Trout Unlimited, but said she was offering her own opinions and not speaking for the group.
Imperiled Native Species
Yellowstone cutthroat trout are considered a premier species by many, but they’ve struggled in their native waters for years as rainbow trout and other species have moved in on them.
Buchner said rainbow trout were introduced into some native Yellowstone cutthroat streams years ago, but she didn’t know for sure if that was the case in the Buffalo Creek drainage.
Yellowstone cutthroat was the dominant species in the area until the early 1900s, according to the Park Service.
Since then, they’ve suffered from overfishing and competition with nonnative species, such as rainbow trout.
Their genetics have also been tainted trough “hybridization,” according to the Park Service.
Buchner agrees that happens sometimes.
“They can hybridize with other species, so you can end up with ‘cutbows,’” she said.
According to the proposal, hybrids would be killed along with the rainbows in the Buffalo Creek drainage before genetically pure Yellowstone cutthroats are reintroduced.
Native Yellowstone cutthroats were plentiful in the Yellowstone Lake ecosystem up until the early 1980s. Then illegally introduced lake trout started gobbling them, according to the Park Service.
The cutthroats’ numbers were severely reduced by the early 2000s. Efforts to cull lake trout paid off, and the number of Yellowstone cutthroats has bounced back, but are still lagging behind historic highs.
Restocking Might Work Too
A possible alternative to the rainbow and hybrid genocide on Buffalo Creek might be to slowly restock Yellowstone cutthroat trout over the next 10 years or so.
According to that plan, the Slough Creek camping area could be used as a staging area for helicopters to carry cutthroats up into the remote drainage.
Either way, Buchner said she’d like to see more native Yellowstone cutthroats.
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.