BILLINGS – Grayling Creek in northwest Yellowstone National Park will once again be home to a population of its namesake – Arctic grayling.
This spring, NPS crews hatched nearly 100,000 grayling eggs in the upper reaches of Grayling Creek. Native westslope cutthroat trout are also being reintroduced – nearly 700 fish and more than 10,000 eggs have been stocked already in 2015.
Introductions such as these for grayling and westslope cutthroat trout will be occurring for at least three years at Grayling Creek.
The Arctic grayling and westslope cutthroat introductions are part of a concerted effort to restore a native fish community to the large, remote Grayling Creek watershed. The Madison River and its tributaries, including Grayling Creek in Yellowstone National Park, once held the southernmost population of fluvial Arctic grayling, a beautiful fish known for its large dorsal fin and iridescent color.
Scientists in the 1890s described the fluvial Arctic grayling population as abundant, but by the 1950s, the grayling – one of 11 fish native to Yellowstone – was virtually extirpated. Also, only one aboriginal population of genetically unaltered westslope cutthroat trout remained in the park.
Crews from the National Park Service, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service and Turner Enterprises have worked in partnership for nearly a decade to create a large secure refuge with 35 miles of stream habitat within the Grayling Creek watershed. In 2012 a natural waterfall was modified to create a barrier that prevents nonnative brown and rainbow trout from invading the restoration area from downstream.
In 2013 and 2014 interagency crews treated the proposed restoration area with rotenone, a pesticide that targets fish, to remove all nonnative and hybridized trout. The treatments proved successful, as no brown or rainbow trout have since been found in Grayling Creek.
The primary source of fluvial Arctic grayling eggs is Axolotl Lake, a small lake near Ennis where hundreds of Big Hole River strain grayling are held as a source for eggs. FWP’s Big Timber Hatchery oversees egg collection and rears them until they are ready to stock in the wild.
Westslope cutthroat trout eggs being reintroduced to Grayling Creek are held at a small egg rearing facility at the Sun Ranch in the Madison River Valley. The eggs are collected from wild sources and brought to the Sun Ranch where they are reared until they are almost ready to hatch. Biologists then stock them into the wild.
“Fluvial Arctic grayling and westslope cutthroat trout are being returned to the waters of Yellowstone National Park,” said Todd Koel, leader of the park’s Native Fish Conservation Program. “Support by our agency and non-governmental organization partners, as well as funding through donations to the Yellowstone Park Foundation are the reasons this large restoration effort has been successful.”