Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout
The Yellowstone cutthroat trout, a true Montana native, will now have
a beautiful new spawning channel thanks to a successful collaborative
effort involving two Park County ranches, the USDA Natural Resources
Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Montana Department of Fish,
Wildlife and Parks (FWP).
The Yellowstone cutthroat trout is one of two cutthroat subspecies in
Montana. This colorful trout has a golden coloration and larger, more
widely distributed spots on its sides than the westslope cutthroat
trout. The Yellowstone cutthroat, as the name implies, is native to the
Yellowstone River drainage of southwest and south central Montana. It is
considered a Montana Species of Special Concern by the FWP. Much of the
Yellowstone cutthroat trout spawning habitat in tributaries of the upper
Yellowstone River has been lost to stream channelization and irrigation
withdrawals that dewater the streams before spawning and egg incubation
are completed in July and August.
Spawning Habitat Restoration
The PMD Ranch LLC (Bill and Emma Joy Dana) and the Nelson Ranch
(Roger Nelson) were interested in giving something back to the natural
resources they enjoy so much. These ranchers decided to collaborate on a
project to restore a small unnamed spring creek to provide optimum
spawning habitat for Yellowstone cutthroat. The creek originates from
three individual springs on the Nelson Ranch and runs through the PMD
Ranch until it joins the Yellowstone River. The “creek” was functioning
as a ditch and had been channelized long ago to drain a wet meadow. The
entire area was marginal habitat for fish and wildlife and provided few
The FWP and NRCS met with the two landowners and quickly realized
they had a real opportunity to provide the technical and financial
assistance required to make this dream a reality. The group developed a
conservation plan that included total channel reconstruction for the
entire spring creek (4,909 feet), construction of a wetland complex,
fencing the riparian area and wetland complex (12,367 feet), providing
off-site livestock water, and developing a hardened water gap to provide
livestock water. Additionally, the project aimed to improve stream flows
in the Yellowstone River by improving irrigation efficiency on 74 acres
of irrigated land by converting from flood irrigation to highly
efficient sprinkler irrigation. The total estimated cost for the
improvements was more than $207,300.
Once the large-scale conservation plan was developed, the next major
hurdle was to offset the restoration costs. Neither landowner could
afford to cover the bill on their own, so they sought cost-share
assistance. NRCS provided $58,600 through the Environmental Quality
Incentives Program and $53,200 through the Wildlife Habitat Incentives
Program. The FWP provided $42,000 through the Future Fisheries Program
and the landowners paid for the remainder.
The landowners chose to hire an NRCS-certified Technical Service
Provider (TSP) to design the stream channel and wetland complex in order
to expedite the project implementation. The TSP provided all design,
construction supervision, and project coordination. By spring of 2006,
the channel and wetland restoration were complete.
Project Benefits Fishery and Wildlife
Now that the habitat has been restored, FWP will “seed” the stream
with fertilized Yellowstone cutthroat trout eggs during the spring
spawning season to imprint the fish to the stream. These fish will
return in subsequent years to spawn and provide the Yellowstone River
with a flush of new fish.
The project will yield significant numbers of Yellowstone cutthroat to
the Yellowstone River system as well as providing high quality habitat
for countless numbers of ducks, geese, and deer. Without the partnership
effort, including NRCS, FWP, the TSP, contractors, and the landowners,
this project would never have happened.
For More Information
To find out more about how to make your production agriculture
operation more wildlife-friendly, contact your local NRCS field office.
If you encounter any problems with the files provided on
this page, please contact
Webmaster at 406-587-6945.
This document requires
Reader. For best results, print on both sides of a legal-size sheet
of paper (8.5" x 14").
Restoration for Wildlife Habitat: Park County, Montana (PDF; 556 KB)
Tony Rolfes (NRCS), Ron Hoagland (NRCS), and Andy Dana (Landowner)
overlook the channelized creek.
Newly restored creek (May 2006).
Newly constructed shallow wetland unit.
Hardened water gap at end of spring creek.
Filling drain ditches.
New creek in construction.