Welcome to the latest installment of the Wednesday Wake-Up Call, a roundup of the most pressing conservation issues important to anglers. Working with our friends at Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, The Everglades Foundation, Captains for Clean Water, VoteWater.org, and Conservation Hawks (among others), we’ll make sure you’ve got the information you need to understand the issues and form solid opinions.
1. We Must Act to Protect the Trout of the Big Hole, Beaverhead, and Ruby Rivers
Twenty years ago, the Jerry Creek section of the Big Hole River held between 3,000 and 3,500 trout per mile–the kinds of numbers that draw anglers from around the world. The nearby Beaverhead and Ruby rivers, while less productive, were also healthy. Over the last few years, however, trout numbers in the Big Hole have crashed, to the point that estimates put the trout population in the Jerry Creek section at less than 1,000 per mile. The other rivers show smaller but still troubling declines.
The first step to solving the problems plaguing these waters is to study the situation, so a coalition of lodge owners, outfitters, guides, shop owners, and conservation leaders have sent a letter to Gov. Greg Gianforte, urging him to immediately take three steps:
- Coordinate an emergency meeting between businesses, lodges, guides, outfitters, and community members to hear from impacted constituents in order to better understand the State’s planned response to this emergency.
- Authorize state expert agencies to conduct scientific analysis to determine the cause(s) of the trout population collapse in the Jefferson Basin, and potential solutions.
- Identify emergency funding to support any river-based business interruptions or temporary closures caused by the declining health of Montana’s cold water fisheries in the Jefferson Basin.
Signatories include Wade Fellin of Big Hole Lodge, Kelly Galloup of Slide Inn, Brian McGeehan of Montana Angler, Mike Geary of Healing Waters Lodge, and Brian Wheeler of Big Hole River Foundation.
They are asking anyone who cares about these coldwater fisheries to contact both the governor and the Fisheries Division of Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. Here is contact info for each:
Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks
1420 East Sixth Avenue
P.O. Box 200701
Helena, Mt 59620-0701
2. U.S. Supreme Court Weakens the Clean Water Act
The U.S. Supreme Court today issued a ruling sharply curtailing Clean Water Act protections for wetlands that are critical to healthy and functioning watersheds.
Ruling in Sackett v. EPA, the court limited Clean Water Act protection for wetlands to those with a “continuous surface connection” to other “Waters of the United States,” which will remove federal protections for the majority of the nation’s wetlands. Earlier rulings had protected any wetlands with a “significant nexus” to Waters of the U.S., and for decades the Clean Water Act has covered wetlands that are “adjacent” to those waters. In the case in question, the court found that a landowner did not need a federal Clean Water Act permit to fill in a wetland lacking a “continuous surface connection” to a water body flowing into Idaho’s popular Priest Lake that provides important cutthroat trout habitat.
- The Supreme Court has narrowed the scope of the Clean Water Act, on npr.org
- TRCP Statement on Supreme Court Weakening Clean Water Act Protections, on trcp.org
3. Large Algae Bloom Observed in Lake Okeechobee
Captains for Clean Water reports: There was a general consensus that algae blooms on Lake Okeechobee would be significant this summer after the two hurricanes late last fall churned the lake up, unlocking semi-stabilized excess nutrients from the muck bottom and redistributing them throughout the water column where they can be more readily utilized by these harmful algal blooms.
Now we’re seeing those predictions take shape. And with the lake about a half foot higher than average for this time of year, the threat of significant lake discharges to the coasts is possible. The combination of a blue-green algae bloom now covering more than 35% of Lake Okeechobee, elevated lake levels, and the upcoming rainy season does not bode well for what could be in store this summer.