Implications of coal mining and coalbed methane development in the Crown of the Continent aquatic ecosystems.

Collaborators: Ric Hauer and Erin Sexton (University of Montana, Flathead Lake Biological Station), Chris Servheen (USFWS), Mark Deleray (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks), Jack Potter (GNP), John Duffield (University of Montana), Rich Moy (DNRC- retired)

North fork of the Flathead River Basin.The North Fork Flathead River, which flows across the US-Canadian border just over the divide from Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, is recognized as a regional stronghold for migratory bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout throughout their native range. Limited studies have shown that a majority of spawning and rearing occurs in the upper reaches of the Flathead River in Montana and British Columbia (BC). For example, in 2003 the BC portion of the Flathead basin supported approximately 55% of the bull trout spawning population in the North Fork Flathead. However, despite the importance of these critical habitats and native fish populations, the BC portion of the drainage has recently been proposed for coal, gas and oil development throughout the headwaters of the watershed.

For most of the perennial streams in BC and Glacier National Park, there is little information on water quality, fish distributions and genetic status of native populations, including the federally listed threatened bull trout and state sensitive westslope cutthroat trout. Additionally, limited information exists regarding the population genetic structure of migratory fish populations in the upper Flathead system. This project is designed to collect fish distribution, abundance and genetic information for many streams on the west side of Glacier National Park and the BC portion of the drainage. These data will be critical to document the current status of native fish population and critical spawning and rearing habitats prior to potential mining or other development of this drainage. This is a cooperative research and monitoring project with the USGS-NRMSC, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, University of Montana, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, BC Ministry of Environment, and the Ktunaxa (too-nah-hah) First Nation of Southeast British Columbia to manage a shared transboundary fisheries and river system.

l Information Sheet l

For more information contact:
Clint Muhlfeld
406-888-7926
cmuhlfeld@usgs.gov