Proposal to mitigate bull trout is pending

Plan will aid area fisheries near Montanore Mine site

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U.S. Forest Service Fisheries Biologist John Carlson indicates the area of the headwaters of Libby Creek where a native population of bull trout are located. Steps could be made as part of the Montanore Mines mitigation plan that could improve their habitat.

If a corporation is going to spend money to enhance the environment, it would rather those improvements be local than regional, and so would Montanore Minerals, Inc.

That’s the thinking behind a mitigation proposal to enhance the native bull trout habitat in the headwaters of Libby Creek just a few fly angler’s casts from the mine site.

U.S. Forest Service Fisheries Biologist John Carlson is working on a mitigation plan that he will submit by week’s end to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that will become a component of the Biological Assessment toward what most hope will be the final permitting of the Montanore Mine. 

The three-mile stretch of water for mitigation contains a native bull trout population that swims alone. 

“They are it,” Carlson said Monday. “There are no other native species there. They’re money in the bank.”

Carlson said the mitigation plan that will enhance the creek habitat for the bull trout in the stretch of Libby Creek.

Carlson explained bull trout can go downstream, but because of about a 20-foot waterfall, the fish below the falls cannot go back. These fish are unaffected by other non-native species such as brook trout.

It is in this pristine area that Carlson and Montantore Minerals’ Environmental Permitting Consultant Eric Klepfer are teaming. Because the mine is expected to adversely affect water flow on Libby Creek, Montanore will adjust for that lack of flow by enhancing water depths in the creek, specifically by favorably altering riparian vegetation.

Carlson’s plan, which he hopes to submit to the Fish and Wildlife Service by Wednesday, will include the planting of large deciduous trees — specifically black cottonwood — and wood structures that would narrow channels while increasing depth, providing shade and enhancing and stabilizing water levels.

“Installing large formidable wood structures in the floodplain and riparian zone would stabilize this reach, restore riparian function, improve spawning and rearing habitat for bull trout by increasing channel depth, complexity and stability and sediment retention.”

Carlson’s proposal, for all its forethought, must pass muster with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“I’d be really surprised if they disagree,” Carlson said.

And what about Klepfer?

“I’m all for it. It’s my preference,” Klepfer said. “It’s right there near the mine site, and that’s what’s most appealing it.”

The alternative to Carlson’s Libby Creek plan is doing a total fish kill above the Flower Creek Dam and establishing a bull trout population there.

“The problem with that is you never know if you’re getting all the non-native fish,” Carlson said referring to brook trout. “You just never know, and then you have brooks breeding with bull trout. The only way to really be sure is to do repeat (fish) kills.”

The Libby Creek mitigation plan is but a piece of the Biological Assessment that will result in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion that ultimately will become part of the Environmental Impact Statement. 

Still, it is another step forward toward the permitting process.

Paul Bradford, Kootenai National Forest supervisor, echoed Carlson’s statement that this is just a piece of the puzzle, and Bradford expects formal consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service to continue.

“We expect the aquatics portion of the biological assessment to be finalized this week. In compliance with the Endangered Species Act, formal consultation will be re-initiated with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service,” Bradford said.

Both Klepfer and Montanore Minerals CEO Glenn Dobbs remain optimistic the mine could be permitted in 2013.

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