The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks are teaming up at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge for the benefit of an endangered population of Arctic grayling.
This springas part of a laborintensive, federalstate partnership that began with testing early last decade and will continue at least through 2014biologists introduced about 69,000 fertilized Arctic grayling eggs into Elk Springs Creek at the refuge. Over three to four weeks, they monitored the growing gametes and checked for grayling hatched in previous years. The partnerships goal is to reestablish a viable spawning population in the creek.
Arctic grayling is a freshwater fish in the same family as salmon, trout and whitefish. The Upper Missouri River population in Montana was classified as a distinct population segment and added to the candidate list under the Endangered Species Act in 2010. Arctic grayling in Montana are the last surviving endemic populations in the contiguous 48 states. Reestablishing the Arctic grayling into historical spawning streams, including Elk Springs Creek, is a goal in the refuges comprehensive conservation plan (CCP).
A nearby Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) hatchery is providing key expertise toward that objective, extracting eggs and sperm from a healthy population of Arctic grayling in Red Rock Creek on the refuge.
They show up here with their electrofishing crew the night before the grayling are expected to spawn. They extract eggs from the females and mix them with sperm from the males. Thats a really technical thing that they do, says refuge manager Bill West. Success depends on precise predictions of spawning and careful execution. Fertilized eggs are transferred to Elk Springs Creek and placed in remote site incubators, which provide surrogate nests along the creek.
The state is also relying on the Red Rock Creek population to help it establish a brood stock of Arctic grayling in a nearby lake on national forest land using a similar approach.
Service biologist Glenn Boltz is leading the Elk Springs Creek grayling reintroduction with advisory assistance from Service and Montana FWP geneticists about how to establish a diverse, viable gene pool in the brood stock and within Elk Springs Creek.
Such closeknit partnerships make sense for federal and state wildlife agencies with missions to conserve the same resources, says John Kennedy, chair of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies StateFederal Relations Committee and deputy director of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
It is in the best interest of our agencies, our publics and the fish and wildlife resources we are mandated to conserve, to develop and maintain strong relationships and partnerships and achieve shared success, says Kennedy, who adds that strong partnerships depend on trustful relationships and minimal jurisdictional debates between federal and state agencies.
To lay the groundwork for this project, the refuge restored Elk Creek as riparian habitat by, in 2009, draining a humanmade pond that had been blocking the spawning path of Arctic grayling on the creek for decades. This caused some concern for the trumpeter swan, which nests on the refuge. While staff does not believe the ponds demise has hurt the swan, the refuge continues to monitor the trumpeter population. Such balancing acts involving species of concern are part of the challenge of managing a refuge, West says.
As for the Arctic grayling, their viability in Elk Springs Creek will be judged by the genetic diversity and numbers within their populations. Generally, Boltz says, biologists designate a population as viable if there are at least 500 fish and 50 spawning individuals per year, which has not yet happened in this case.
Kendall Slee is a Coloradobased freelance writer.