MRF outlines projects, looks to the future

The Madison River Foundation hosted the 9th Annual Ennis On The Madison Fly Fishing Festival last week with fly casting clinics, vendor booths at Peter T’s Park and various fly fishing related seminars in the First Madison Valley Bank conference room.

In addition to all the fly fishing related activities, representatives from the foundation gave a presentation on their current research and restoration projects, which are an important part of their mission to preserve, protect and enhance the Madison River Watershed.

One focus of study for the foundation is the whitefish population in the Madison River, a project that will combine the efforts of the Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit at Montana State University and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said MRF executive director Richard Lessner

The study will examine population numbers and aging patterns of the species, as well as using radio telemetry tracking equipment to learn about spawning habits.

Currently, the declining whitefish population in the Madison River means losing a significant food source for trout.

“Its just amazing how little is known about one of our most predominant native fish,” said MRF Secretary Dave Bricker.

“Whiteys are important because they’re a major food source for trout,” Lessner added. “We know they’re fall spawners. We don’t know where they spawn, what kind of conditions they like or if they migrate.”

The three-year project will cost approximately $150,000 and will provide some “groundbreaking” research.

“It’s a much bigger undertaking than anything our young organization has done,” Lessner said.

Another ongoing project for the foundation is the restoration of streams and tributaries like Wigwam Creek in the Gravelly Range. Bricker outlined the project that deepened the creek and slowed the water current to improve habitat for westslope cutthroat.

“One of the reasons for the focus on the westslopes is of course it is our native trout species to this area,” Bricker explained. “Everybody is really interested in making sure they don’t have to be listed as an endangered species, because once they’re listed things get a lot more complicated.”

Foundation volunteers helped install fencing to keep livestock out of the creek and stock tanks were brought in as an alternate water source for grazing cattle.

Lessner was enthusiastic about the direction of the MRF’s projects are taking.

“Because of the improvements we’ve done up at the higher elevations, the fencing we’ve put in, we will have taken an entire watershed, Wigwam Creek, and protected it for the westslope cutthroat,” he said.

“We’re also looking to do the same thing at Horse Creek,” Lessner added. “If we can take that entire drainage, and get it protected, and preserve those remnant populations of cutthroat.”

The foundation is involved in other ongoing projects as well, including a fish rescue operation in the West Madison Canal. When the water flow to the 16-mile ditch running to the Valley Garden Ranch tapers off each fall, volunteers transplant fish trapped in the canal back to the main body of the river.

Other educational and outreach programs include publishing a brochure on aquatic nuisances as well as seminars and presentations on various local conservation and habitat issues.


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