Winning for Grayling

A rare fish is on the rise thanks to efforts to improve its habitat.

In 1805, Lewis and Clark’s journals noted first sightings of grayling, referring to them as “a new kind of white or silvery trout.”

The future is looking brighter for Montana's Arctic grayling populations thanks to the Conservancy and an army of partners collaborating for their benefit.

The Montana populations have been pulled back from the brink of listing as a federally endangered species.

The Nature Conservancy is proud to have been a partner in receiving the Outstanding Contribution by a Fisheries Division Partner Award from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Department for our work in helping conserve Arctic grayling in the Centennial Valley.  The award is shared with the USFWS Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and the USFWS Bozeman Fish Technology Center for successful collaboration to improve conditions for a fish that is in very serious trouble.

Reducing the Threat

Once found in only two states in the Lower 48, Montana and Michigan, river-dwelling Arctic grayling have now gone extinct in Michigan. Fortunately, there’s better news for the grayling residing in Montana waters. The Big Hole River is the last place in the Lower 48 with populations of river-dwelling grayling. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of conservation-minded landowners, organizations and agencies, the Montana populations have been pulled back from the brink of listing as a federally endangered species. The Conservancy is pleased to have played a part in this very successful public and private partnership.

This success was only possible because of the hard work and commitment of a number of partners ranging from state and federal agencies, to conservation and watershed organizations, and private landowners. In the Big Hole, private ranchers signed on to agreements known as Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAA) that have resulted in significant conservation of grayling. A CCAA is a conservation agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that helps to address the threats and take measures to conserve species that are candidates for the endangered species list. Since 2006, more than 250 conservation projects to improve grayling habitat have been put in place under the CCAA program and now Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks has initiated a similar program in the Centennial.

In the Centennial, lake-dwelling grayling spend most of their time in Upper Red Rock Lake and then spawn in tributary streams such as Red Rock Creek. Like their river-dwelling cousins, the lake-dwelling grayling are also the last of their kind in the lower 48 and the source population for numerous lakes throughout western Montana.

Taking Action

Among the measures being taken in the Centennial to improve grayling habitat are grazing management projects to prevent livestock from damaging banks, reductions in irrigation and improved irrigation infrastructure to keep more water in streams, and instream flow agreements to protect private water rights. The Conservancy has been especially active in restoring degraded streambanks by planting thousands of willows that will stabilize banks and eventually provide shade to keep waters cool enough for grayling to thrive. Working with Beaverhead County and other partners, the Conservancy has also helped replace numerous stream road crossings to improve connectivity. Collectively, these measures will be important in adapting to a changing climate with lower snowpack and earlier spring runoff.


To support conservation of the Arctic grayling and other species of concern in Montana, please consider making a charitable donation today.

 

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