The Blackfoot River, the East and West forks of the Bitterroot and Metcalf Lake in the Swan Valley are on a list of the 10 most endangered fishing holes in Montana compiled by the state's two largest organizations of conservation-minded anglers.
Montana Trout Unlimited and the Montana Wildlife Federation released the list Monday of 10 popular fishing waters that are threatened by a combination of habitat degradation and denied public access.
"Everyone who loves Montana's outdoors should be alarmed at the steady loss of our freedom to enjoy our fish and wildlife," said Craig Sharpe, executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation.
Mining interests have long wanted to build an extensive, open-pit, cyanide-leach gold mine next to the Blackfoot River near Lincoln, the groups said in a news release announcing their list of endangered fishing waters.
"Because of industry lobbyists and sympathetic lawmakers," the news release said, "legislation that would have lifted the voter-approved ban on this type of mining almost passed the recent Legislature. Despite the setback, the mining industry has said it will continue to seek ways to overturn the ban and build the mine on the Blackfoot."
The groups' recommended solution to the threat to the Blackfoot is to "defend and maintain Montana's citizen ban on cyanide leach mining."
The East and West forks of the Bitterroot offer superb trout fishing on waters that can be technically classified "non-navigable," for commercial purposes and are therefore classified in Montana's stream access law as "Class II" streams.
The Denver law firm, Mountain States Legal Foundation, is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to declare these types of streams in Montana off-limits to stream access, said Bruce Farling, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited. If successful, he said, this challenge could lock anglers out of thousands of miles of fishable waters in the state.
The groups' suggested solution to that threat is to "ensure Montana vigorously defends our right to access public waters."
Metcalf Lake is a small, popular and highly productive glacial pond managed traditionally by the state as a trophy rainbow trout fishery. Plum Creek Timber Co. owns the land surrounding Metcalf Lake and has put it on the market for real estate development. Future public access to the lake is threatened.
"This is a small part of the 10,000 acres Plum Creek plans to sell in the Swan for development," the groups' news release states, "potentially having huge impact on access for fishing and hunting."
Trout Unlimited and the Wildlife Federation advocate urging Plum Creek to "demonstrate civic mindedness by collaborating with locals on solutions, such as conservation and access easements throughout the Swan."
The following popular fishing waters are also included in the groups' endangered list: Smith River, Stillwater River, Fort Peck Reservoir, Yellowstone River, Beaverhead River and Clark Canyon Reservoir, Bighorn River, and Tongue River.
To learn more about these and other waters under threat, and what can be done to conserve them, the list will soon be posted on the Montana Trout Unlimited Web site (montanatu.org), Farling said.