GRAVELLY MOUNTAINS – The Madison River Foundation worked with the U.S. Forest Service and Bar 7 Ranch last week to construct approximately two miles of jack leg fence in the Arasta Creek drainage of the Gravelly Mountains, a project to protect the small population of native westslope cutthroat trout in Wigwam Creek by excluding nearby cattle from its tributaries.
The foundation’s executive director Dr. Richard Lessner recruited local members as well as volunteers from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition to help pound stakes, stand the legs up and stable wire while Forest Service crews cleared trees and brush along the way. And although the project was located high above the waters of the Madison, Lessner explained that it is an important conservation effort to maintain a delicate habitat.
When Forest Service fisheries biologists conduct electroshock surveys of Wigwam Creek last year there was a consistent cutthroat population throughout, Lessner said, adding that genetic testing of the fish revealed between 85 and 90 percent purity for native westslope cutthroat. The Madison River Foundation wants to preserve that population as many ways as possible, which included being awarded a $20,000 grant from the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest Southwest Montana Resource Advisory Committee to help fund the project.
“It’s a pretty good tributary drainage of the Madison,” Lessner said of the Wigwam Creek area. “Since the fish are already there, we don’t have to do anything but protect them.”
The fence-building project went surprisingly fast, and by Wednesday afternoon the volunteer crews had all but caught up to the Forest Service crews working to clear a path for the fence to come through. Scott Christensen, climate change program director with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, worked away leading a team of three other volunteers to help put the fence up. While they wrestled to stand up and secure the jacklegs along the fence line, the volunteers fully appreciated benefits of their labor.
“The best part about putting up this fence is doing something outside on a beautiful day that’s meaningful and lasting,” Christensen said. “Hopefully this makes a difference in keeping cows out of the creek and making sure that trout population can continue to flourish.”