May 26, 2023
By Fly Fisherman Staff
The 98-mile-long Selway River is one of America’s most spectacularly wild, free-flowing rivers. It flows west from the Bitterroot Mountains on the Montana-Idaho border to join the Lochsa River and form the Middle Fork Clearwater. It is one of the eight original rivers protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, and much of the river lies within the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness.
The Selway is one of the last few “untouched” rivers in America and provides important habitat for native species like westslope cutthroat trout, steelhead, bull trout, and Chinook salmon, as well as many birds and mammals. To keep the river pristine, only one rafting party may launch per day.
Just before its confluence with the Lochsa, the Selway leaves the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and enters the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests. Along this stretch, there are a few private inholdings along the river that were grandfathered in before the time of the national forests.
Recently, Western Rivers Conservancy (westernrivers.org) purchased one of the most important of these inholdings, the Selway River Ranch. The ranch is the finest example of a flat, pristine meadow on the lower Selway. The ranch includes nearly a mile of the west bank of the river, and half a mile of Elk City Creek, an important Selway tributary. The ranch could have been purchased by a new private owner and subdivided into at least four home sites, which would forever change the character of the lower Selway.
Right now, WRC is holding the ranch in trust, and working toward a grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund to convey the ranch to the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest forever. Their goal is to keep the property undeveloped to protect the fish and wildlife habitat and to help maintain the untamed character of Idaho’s Wild and Scenic Selway River.
Rare Element Exploration Proposed in Montana's Bitterroot Drainage
A Utah-based mining company has announced plans for exploratory drilling on its property on Sheep Creek in the Bitterroot River watershed south of Painted Rocks Reservoir in Montana (not to be confused with the proposed Sheep Creek copper mine in Montana’s Smith River drainage). The property reportedly boasts the highest total rare-earth oxides among all rare-earth deposits in the United States–upwards of 10 percent total.
“We have confirmed that Sheep Creek is the highest-grade rare-earth deposit in the United States, with a multibillion-dollar resource value,” Jim Hedrick, US Critical Materials President, and former rare-earth Commodity Specialist at the U.S. Geological Survey, recently stated.
But Bitterroot River advocates are skeptical that this can be done safely.
“If it goes in it will ruin our valley, period,” former Stevensville fly-shop owner Chuck Stranahan said. “As aquifers are disrupted and waterborne contaminants seep laterally through disturbed layers of folded bedrock, the long-term effects are inevitable; the time frame, however, is uncertain.”
Rare-earth metals are used in computer memory, electric vehicle batteries, cell phones, catalytic converters, magnets, fluorescent lighting, and more. Demand for these minerals is likely to rise dramatically in the coming years.
“I intend to take it to U.S. Rep Matt Rosendale,” Stranahan added. “If we’re going to put a finger in the bureaucratic air, it may as well be a big breeze. It may take national pressure to get this monstrosity put down. If I can get a few prominent locals to write a sheaf of letters to Rosendale we might have some impact.”
Anglers and advocates are encouraged to attend a program entitled “Rare Element Mining–What it Means for the Bitterroot” at 6:30 pm at Stevensville’s North Valley Public Library on June 1.
Click here to send a message to Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale.
More information is available here.
Montana FWP Seeking Comments on Several Fishing-Related Proposals
In a bid to safeguard a significant area of fish and wildlife habitat in central Montana, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) has announced plans to prepare a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for a perpetual conservation easement on Big Spring Creek. The proposed conservation easement, spanning approximately 2,322 acres near Lewistown, aims to protect and enhance the unique natural resources found in the area while improving public access.
Dubbed the "Big Spring Creek Conservation Easement," the project seeks to provide long-term conservation measures for the vital ecosystem. The conservation easement would not only shield the habitat but also allow for its enhancement, ensuring the preservation of diverse wildlife species in the region.
Interested parties can participate in the public scoping process by submitting comments, which must be received by May 30. More information is available here.
FWP is also seeking comments on a proposal to introduce westslope cutthroat trout collected from Page Gulch near Stemple Pass to the fishless headwaters of Beaver Creek southwest of Helena. This action is designed to prevent the loss of a unique genetic strain of cutthroat trout native to central Montana. Comments for this are due June 1. More information is available here.
Finally, FWP is seeking comments for the proposed construction of an overflow parking lot at the Craig Fishing Access Site on the Missouri River. The number of vehicles often exceeds the parking capacity during the spring, summer, and early fall. Comments on this are due June 3. More information is available here.
NorthWestern Energy Plans to Address Madison River Fishery Health
NorthWestern Energy (NWE), in collaboration with Montana agencies and local stakeholders, has announced plans to implement temporary flow increases from the Madison River’s Hebgen Dam as an effort to address the declining health of the river's fishery and maintain optimal conditions for productive habitat.
NWE intends to implement higher flows during key periods, such as the spring and fall, when water demand is relatively low, providing cooler temperatures and higher oxygen levels. The initiative reflects the commitment of all involved parties to preserve the river's natural resources and support the recreational opportunities it provides.
The move is likely in response to a malfunction on Hebgen Dam in late 2021 that dramatically reduced flows at a crucial time in the brown trout spawn. A recent report indicates that catastrophic damage was avoided, but that negative impacts on the fishery are quite likely.
For more details, refer to this article by the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
New Public Access Area on Laramie River’s Woods Landing Opens
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) recently announced the opening of the Woods Landing Public Access Area on southeastern Wyoming’s Laramie River.
The Woods Landing Public Access Area offers parking and a gravel boat ramp, which provides a take-out point for floaters hoping to avoid the downstream irrigation diversions and livestock fences.
“We typically see an increase in floaters around Memorial Day weekend,” said Laramie Region Habitat and Access Supervisor Jerry Cowles. “The Habitat and Access Crew took on this project early in the field season to make sure the ramp would be ready for use as we enter the busy rafting season.”
For more information about the Woods Landing Public Access Area, visit the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's website.
Deal Reached to Safeguard Colorado River from Drying Up
After years of intense negotiations, representatives from the seven U.S. states that rely on the Colorado River for water supply, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming, along with tribal leaders and federal officials, reached a comprehensive agreement.
The deal, known as the Colorado River Sustainability Plan, outlines a set of measures to ensure the long-term sustainability and equitable distribution of the river's water resources. While challenges lie ahead in implementing the plan effectively, this deal offers a glimmer of hope for millions of people and diverse ecosystems that rely on the Colorado River.
The signing ceremony for the Colorado River Sustainability Plan is scheduled to take place next month.
Read more about this historic agreement here.
BTT Seeks Help from Tarpon Anglers
The Bonefish & Tarpon Trust (BTT) is asking for help from anglers on its tarpon isotope study, which aims to gain insights into the movement patterns, habitat use, and diet of Atlantic tarpon.
By analyzing the isotopic composition of tarpon scales and tissues, researchers can determine the sources of nutrients and identify specific habitats where these fish reside and feed. The study involves collecting samples from tarpon across various regions and utilizing advanced laboratory techniques to analyze the stable isotopes.
Interested anglers can request a fin-clip kit at this URL.
To report fly-fishing-related news from your area, please e-mail digital editor Josh Bergan.