YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK – The National Park Foundation is giving a $500,000 grant to Yellowstone National Park to help replenish the native cutthroat trout population.
The waters hold a great prize that many fly fishers travel a long way to find – the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. But this prize is threatened by a danger which previous generations of anglers themselves introduced.
“Beginning in 1880 and 1890, wanting to provide more opportunities for anglers, the US Fish Commission stocked some Yellowstone lakes that actually held no fish until then to provide more opportunities for anglers," Yellowstone National Park biologist Todd Koel said. “And some of the first ones were these non-native lake trout.
Biologists at the time thought there was no way fish could migrate from Lewis and Shoshone lakes to Yellowstone Lake, but the fish found a way.
“There is a chance that the lake trout actually accessed Yellowstone Lake, over time, by swimming up and over two ocean pass," Koel said.
It took almost a century for that to happen, but once it did Yellowstone Forever President & CEO Heather White said the Yellowstone Cutthroat trout, the native fish in the area "just completely plummeted.”
But the biologists had a solution.
"So we have a large netting program, a gill netting program that’s targeting these invasive non-native lake trout," Koel said.
The program costs more than $1 million a year and that’s where White and Yellowstone Forever step in.
“So we received a $500,000 donation from the National Park Foundation and the ArgyrosFoundation to support the native fish program at Yellowstone National Park," White told MTN News.
“So we are pretty actively now trying to reverse a lot of what went on over the last century or so," Koel said.
That means taking to the streams to where planted brook and rainbow trout threaten the native cutthroats.
Anglers are sometimes asked to keep all non-native fish and sometimes streams are poisoned.
"If we have situations where the cutthroat or the grayling are totally gone," Koel said.
White said it’s not just fish that benefit, "it has impacts with osprey, with bears, with beavers and with other wildlife.”
“It’s actually an ecosystem restoration effort and that’s what this money is buying," Koel said.
It doesn’t hurt that anglers are now starting to benefit as well.
"In Yellowstone Lake, the fishing is actually really really good," Koel said.
“We’re hearing people say how exciting it is to go fishing and whenever they go they see a Yellowstone Cutthroat trout and they’re excited to see the native fish come back," White said.“The efforts to protect Yellowstone Cutthroat trout will have to go on for decades."