White sturgeon in the Kootenai River of northern Idaho and Northwestern Montana became landlocked during the last Ice Age. For thousands of years these giant fish, which can live more than 80 years, have been an important part of the river ecosystem and the diet and culture of the Kootenai Tribe.
In modern times, the river channel was altered and dikes were built to prevent flooding and provide water for agriculture, and Libby Dam was constructed. These changes altered the river habitat and affected the sturgeon population, particularly the production of juvenile fish, which declined noticeably after the dam was completed in 1972. By 1994, when the population was listed as an endangered species, it had been in decline for some 40 years.
But the people whose culture is bound up with these fish and the people who control the river today are working together to restore sturgeon to their native habitat. The Kootenai white sturgeon story is told in a new film by George Sibley, Gale Force Films. The film aired on the MontanaPBS network in April 2015, and can be viewed here.