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Cutthroat trout

Mark Smith, a fisheries biologist with the Wyoming Fish and Game Department, holds a Yellowstone cutthroat trout taken from South Paintrock Creek on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012 in the Bighorn National Forest east of Ten Sleep. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is nearing the end of a six-year program designed to stabilize the cutthroat population in a portion of their native range. The cutthroat trout captured in South Paintrock were released in another nearby creek that had been cleared of invasive species. (Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune)

GREAT FALLS  – Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is considering introducing westslope cutthroat trout to Camas Lake and Big Camas Creek.

Dave Moser, fisheries manager for the agency’s Region 4, said that those are ideal locations because downstream waterfalls create barriers to other fish species.

“They’re protected from the rainbows and the brook trout downstream,” he said.

Westslope cutthroat trout are one of two subspecies of trout in Montana. The fish can serve as an indicator of the health of their ecosystem, and biologists have been keeping a close eye on the species because it has been threatened with habitat loss and hybridization with rainbow trout and Yellowstone cutthroat.

The two water bodies currently support Yellowstone cutthroat stocked in the 1950s. But Moser said Yellowstone cutthroat aren’t native to the Missouri River drainage and officials would like to see westslope cutthroat returned.

“Yellowstone cutthroat are native to the Yellowstone River,” he said.

The Missouri River drainage includes the Smith River drainage, which includes Camas Lake and Big Camas Creek. In the Smith River drainage, there are only five populations of nonhybridized native westslope cutthroat trout.

A public meeting is planned Thursday at White Sulphur Springs to discuss the plan.

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“We haven’t made a decision yet,” Moser said. “We’re looking for comments and concerns from the public.”

Removing Yellowstone cutthroat from the lake and creek would require using rotenone to kill the trout. Once that population is removed, the agency says westslope cutthroat trout would likely be taken from the Castle Mountains to put in the two water bodies.

“We do expect the transferred westslope will get as big or larger than the Yellowstone,” Moser said.

Meanwhile, though, he said sterile westslope cutthroat would be planted so the area remained of interest to anglers.

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