This report contains the ISRP’s review of a proposal augmented with a response by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ (MFWP) titled Secure and Protect Core Fisheries Habitat in the Swan River Valley. MFWP proposes to acquire fee ownership on spawning and rearing tributaries within the Swan River Valley and thus to provide the Bonneville Power Administration with mitigation credits for approved fish losses caused by construction of Hungry Horse Dam. The ISRP reviewed an initial proposal in September 2010 and requested a response on four items (ISRP 2010-32). MFWP provided a response and the Council requested the ISRP’s review on October 14, 2010.
The ISRP recommends Meets Scientific Review Criteria (Qualified).
Land and associated wetland and stream acquisitions are a Fish and Wildlife Program strategy to protect and restore focal species impacted by Columbia River hydrosystem development. In this specific instance, the information provided by MFWP is sufficient to identify bull trout in Swan Valley as a focal species and technically justifies the acquisition. It is less clear that remaining non-hybridized westslope cutthroat trout populations are appropriate as a focal species in this area. The management plans for westslope cutthroat trout identify other major watersheds as the primary locations of "strongholds" for that species. The Fish and Wildlife Program employs a "build from strength" approach. On this basis, this watershed would not rank high for protection or restoration for westslope cutthroat trout. However, the photos provided to the ISRP, assuming they are from areas targeted for acquisition, do seem to represent excellent westslope cutthroat habitat.
The ISRP noted a lack of connection of the individual parcels anticipated for purchase or easements and specific quantitative projections of benefits to fish and wildlife, which in this case would be an estimate of loss following conversion to subdivisions, golf courses, and such.
The proponents provided reasonable responses to many of the ISRP’s comments, but as indicated above and in comments below, several deficiencies and qualifications remain. These may be addressed during final contracting with the Council and Bonneville Power Administration. The ISRP is not requesting another response.
1) Westslope cutthroat trout may not be an appropriate focal species for targeted land acquisition in this subbasin, unless the proponents can provide more evidence that the parcels involve watersheds inhabited by non-hybridized populations above migration barriers.
2) More information regarding the status and distribution of non-native rainbow trout would also be helpful to include for understanding the potential for protection and recovery of westslope cutthroat trout in the subbasin.
3) The map provided needs accompanying text to adequately explain how the pattern of parcels to be acquired will function ecologically, in relationship to other nearby parcels (i.e. HCP and Forest Legacy parcels) to benefit focal species.
4) The project proponents should provide estimates/projections of benefits to fish and wildlife from acquisitions of proposed parcels. This could be supported by incorporating some of the acquired sites into the Fish and Wildlife Program’s network of native salmonid monitoring locations in the Swan Valley.
5) At a minimum, draft MFWP monitoring plans should indicate metrics, sampling effort, locations, and methods, even if they are to be done under other projects or funding.