April 18, 2022
It’s been another good run of news affecting fly anglers across the country, some good, and some not so good. Against that backdrop, here are the latest Fly Fishing News Briefs for Fly Fisherman.
Win Celebrated in Smith River Mine Case
Montana Trout Unlimited (MTU) and others who love the Big Sky State's treasured trout waters are celebrating a major court victory last week. That news came when a court challenge that began in 2020 went their way and stops—at least for now—a copper mine proposed on the Smith River.
The court challenge from MTU, Trout Unlimited, American Rivers, and others, argued that a state agency did not properly or sufficiently evaluate the risks that the proposed mine would pose to the Smith River trout fishery, its water quality, or its water quantity.
Last week, against the backdrop of a single hearing being held last summer, the Missoula Current newspaper reports (Link: https://missoulacurrent.com/outdoors/2022/04/smith-river-mine-4) that Richland County district judge Katherine Bidegaray agreed with the plaintiffs that the Montana Department of Environmental Quality shouldn’t have issued a Black Butte Project mining permit to Tintina Montana, a reported subsidiary of Sandfire Resources America. The judge’s ruling indicated that the DEQ hadn’t done a thorough analysis of the proposed copper mine’s threats to water quality in nearby Sheep Creek, a significant tributary of the Smith River.
According to the Missoula Current, in addition to violating the state’s Metal Mine Reclamation Act, the judge ruled that the DEQ also violated the Montana Environmental Policy Act by ignoring some of the 12,000 public comments that had been received concerning the proposed alternative processes to deal with mine tailings.
“The mine would generate millions of tons of toxic tailings and require the discharge of nitrogen-laden wastewater into Sheep Creek,” Bidegaray wrote in her findings, according to the newspaper. “This Court finds that DEQ’s decision to permit the Black Butte Copper Mine was arbitrary, capricious, and unlawful.”
While there could still be additional movement in this mine case in the future, for now it’s a big win for those who love clean water, trout, and Montana’s Smith River.
Hood River Chinook Update
With another year of poor returns from wild fish and hatchery fish, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) has put into place restrictive regulations for the spring Chinook salmon fishery on the state's Hood River. According to an ODFW news release, the river will be open for adult hatchery Chinook from last Friday, April 15 through June 30, from the mouth of the river to the mainstem confluence with the East Fork, and the West Fork from the confluence with the mainstem upstream to the angling deadline 200 feet downstream of Punchbowl Falls. The catch limit in those zones is one adult hatchery salmon per day, and five hatchery jack salmon per day, along with all wild Chinook salmon being released unharmed.
Oregon fisheries biologists do predict, however, that a good return of about 1,200 hatchery fish should occur in the Hood River this year, which is a good bit higher than last year's actual return of Columbia River Chinook salmon. That's potentially good news as the run prepares to peak next month in late May thanks to colder water temps in the Hood River.
Due to the continued poor returns of wild and hatchery fish, there is no Chinook season in the Deschutes River this year.
MAPLand Act Heads to President’s Desk
While battles continue concerning public lands and access to them on federal turf, there’s some good news as of late with the Modernizing Access to Our Public Land Act, or MAPLand Act, having near unanimous passage through the U.S. House of Representatives last month.
According to a Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (BHA) news release, the MAPLand Act will fund public land management agencies to standardize, compile, and release digital map records to the public. That will include the status of roads and trails, as well as boundary details and vehicle use regulations on federal lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. National Park Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
BHA says that as of now, more than 16.4 million acres of public lands across the country are landlocked by private lands, and information under the MAPLand Act should help hunters and anglers find new public access opportunities on land and water. If so, that could help provide an additional boost to the nation’s $842.2 billion outdoor recreation industry.
“Inadequate or faulty data can spell disaster for the public land hunter, and the importance of reliable, comprehensive information on access opportunities on our public lands cannot be overstated,” Land Tawney, BHA president and CEO, said.
“In a political climate that can be characterized by partisan rancor and discord, passage of a fundamentally bipartisan effort is worth celebrating,” he added. “Here’s to unity and shared values in the name of access to our public lands, and here’s to the MAPLand Act becoming law!”
TU Works to Save Cali Coho and Steelhead
In an ongoing effort that started back in 1998, Trout Unlimited (TU) is continuing its work to save native Coho and steelhead in California and its coastal waters, working with timber companies, local watershed groups, landowners, and state and federal agencies to help create durable habitat conditions as climate change continues to bring about growing effects. With recent federal funding, among other things, TU has installed root balls and other large pieces of wood in priority Coho restoration streams, work that should improve habitat.
The conservation group also hosted a large wood technical field school last fall for 48 fisheries professionals as a part of its recent efforts. And according to a TU news release, in February, some $1.7 million in newly awarded grant money will now help efforts for large wood augmentation on high priority Coho waters in California like the South Fork Eel, Navarro, Noyo, and Ten Mile Rivers.
That work is especially important as the tipping point nears and some scientists predicting that salmon could be extirpated from California waters over the next half century. Against that somber news, TU notes that Anna Halligan, the program director for the North Coast Coho and Steelhead Restoration Program, will play a key role moving forward as TU and others try and stop those downward trends.
“In all my work with TU, I’ve prioritized projects that restore freshwater fish habitat, enhance water quality and instream flow, reduce stormwater runoff, and help manage invasive species,” said Halligan. “Much of this work is on private timber lands, but I have also worked closely with ranchers and farmers on projects that improve grazing practices to minimize erosion and improve water quality. I strive to find innovative ways to help communities live responsibly on the lands that sustain them.”
As of last fall, TU notes that the program had developed more than 120 projects that had removed 13 fish migration barriers, opened access to about 63 miles of upstream habitat, added over 6,480 pieces of large wood to 115 miles of stream, and improved or decommissioned 273 miles of road, preventing some 63,000 dump trucks full of sediment from degrading water quality.
Madison River Flows Reduced; NWE to Monitor Fish and Improve Habitat
Despite recent cold and early spring snow, much of Montana remains in exceptional drought condition, a troublesome trend heading into the remainder of the Big Sky State’s snowmelt season.
At Hegben Dam, NorthWestern Energy (NWE) started reducing water releases into the Madison River last week according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. With the lake nearly 10 feet below normal pool and the move designed to save water for increased flows later this year, the reduction was expected to bring down current stream flows to 550 cubic feet per second at the Kirby Ranch U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) gauge downstream, as well as down to 950 cubic feet per second at the McAllister USGS gauge.
With the lower flows expected to continue through at least April 24, NWE is asking fly anglers and other outdoors recreationists on the Madison River to be wary of rainbow trout spawning redds, which will be even more vulnerable in the lower flows. Thankfully, according to fish habitat bureau chief and hydro power lead Trevor Watson of the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP), the move to reduce flows now will give the trout time to adjust.
“They’re spring spawners, we feel that we’re well ahead of the window,” Watson indicated to the newspaper.
After last week’s big winter storm, which brought heavy late season snows, blizzard conditions, and even sub-zero readings to portions of Montana and nearby North Dakota, snowpack in the Madison River Basin had improved from 75 to 83 percent of normal, while water year precipitation had improved from 88 to 92 percent of normal.
The move to reduce flows this month comes on the heels of a NorthWestern Energy announcement, that it plans to study impacts of last year's dam malfunction on portions of the upper Madison River, which suddenly left brown trout redds exposed to the elements and volunteers rushing to get stranded trout back into the water. With the impact of the brown trout redds lost—something that FWP says isn’t likely to be catastrophic and will likely take several years to fully determine—looming in coming years, the energy company will now undertake an expensive and several yearlong study to fully understand the loss and its effects on the Madison River.
NWE will also be installing fencing on a couple of Madison River tributaries to keep cattle from degrading the streambanks, along with planting willows to stabilize the banks.
Comment Sought on Snake River Dam Removal
The Wild Steelhead Coalition is asking anglers to complete a survey on Snake River dam removal. The results of the survey will go to Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Patty Murray, who are planning to issue a draft report on dam removal by mid-May. The survey is not limited to Washington residents. Click here for more information.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife to Host Fisheries Meetings
Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) invites anglers to in-person fisheries-management hearings in the Roaring Fork and Eagle River valleys. The meetings will cover CPW’s fisheries management, potential statewide aquatic regulation changes, and other important fisheries news. Anglers are encouraged to join a meeting at the Eagle County Community Building in El Jebel on Wednesday, April 20, and/or a meeting at the Eagle County Library in Eagle on April 27. Anglers seeking to comment are asked to fill out this form.
Florida Wildlife Commission to Meet Early May Gainesville
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has scheduled an in-person meeting for May 3 and 4 at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center in Gainesville at 8:30am. Opportunities for public comment will occur several times throughout the two days. Several fisheries-related topics are slated to be covered, including redfish, cobia, largemouth bass, and crappie management. The agenda is available here.
If you have fly-fishing news to report, please contact Digital Editor Josh Bergan.