The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks hopes to aid the recovery of the Arctic grayling in the Upper Big Hole River beginning this spring.

The FWP’s recovery plan intends to improve the distribution of the fish in the upper Big Hole River near Jackson, as well as in two of the river’s tributaries – Governor Creek and Warm Springs Creek.

At the end of May, the FWP will place between 10 and 30 incubators at different locations in the Big Hole River, as well as the two tributaries. Each of these incubators will be loaded with an estimated 1,000 eggs collected from a broodstock. From those thousands of eggs, the FWP hope a few hundred fish can hatch within three weeks and survive.

The agency plans to repeat the process over a three to five-year period.

The Arctic grayling is found only in Montana among the lower 48 states. Along with being listed as a species of concern by the FWP, the fish is also a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act

FWP Arctic grayling recovery biologist Emily Cayer said her agency has received significant support from private landowners in its recovery efforts. Thirty-three landowners, who own over 160,000 acres along the river, have agreed to assist the government.

Since 2006, the landowners have voluntarily complied with the FWP’s recovery and conservation efforts. In exchange for this compliance, the landowners have received legal assurances that they won’t have to follow additional regulation if the grayling is listed as an endangered species.

“A huge part of this story is the amazing cooperation we’ve received from the landowners,” Cayer said. “Without their cooperation we wouldn’t be able to do this.”

Cayer said her agency has attempted to balance its conservation efforts with the business needs of the ranchers who have signed the conservation agreement.

“We’re trying to improve the habitat for the grayling without affecting (the landowners’) bottom line,” she said.

Since 2006, when the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances came into place, the FWP has installed six-miles of riparian fence and three stock water tanks, undertaken stream channel restoration, enhanced vegetation along the banks of the river, removed culverts from the water, and installed fish ladders to help with fish migration.

An environment assessment of the Arctic grayling recovery project has been published, and the FWP is accepting public comment on the project until April 8. That assessment is available on the FWP’s website.

— Reporter Francis Davis can be reached at

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