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Trout Unlimited on a mission to protect native cutthroat trout population in Montana waters

With what look like Ghostbuster back packs, volunteer teams walk through the creek and shock brook trout.
Posted at 11:20 AM, Oct 19, 2023

Years and years of hard work have been put forth to restore our watersheds and trout population in Montana, but the work is far from over.

“We’ll have to come out here every fall for a couple days and electrofish, but it’s a beautiful place to work so I don’t mind,” said Ashley Brubaker.

Brubaker is the Trout Unlimited Yellowstone Basin project manager. She showed us a trap out at Mill Creek south of Livingston, which is used to catch pesky brook trout.

“Right now, it’s just a brook trout bonanza out here,” said Brubaker.

Which isn’t good for Yellowstone cutthroat trout. According to Brubaker, too many brook trout cause the cutthroat population to decline.

So basically, Trout Unlimited is on a mission to make more room for the cutthroats.

With what look like ghost buster backpacks, Brubaker and the team walk through the creek and shock brook trout.

“It kind of just stuns them for a second,” said Brubaker.

Then they quickly scoop them up.

“We’re removing the brook trout and throwing back the cutthroat,” said Brubaker.

But why are cutthroats so important to keep around?

Yellowstone cutthroat trout are the only native trout in the Yellowstone basin,” said Brubaker. “They currently only occupy 33 percent of their native range so—we’re definitely trying hard to conserve them.”

Another method to protect the cutthroats: build a barrier.

A new barrier will be built in the headwaters next fall. It will secure 10.3 stream miles for the cutthroat population.

“If we stopped doing all this stuff though, the brook trout population would just rebound, so it’s going to require ongoing effort,” said Brubaker.

Effort that goes as far as tweaking how the water flows.

“You can see it’s a straight shot and pretty uniform out here,” said Brubaker.

But not for long, thanks to these structures meant slow the water down and create different currents.

“Which will create little pools,” said Brubaker. “Great spawning areas.”

In 2022, Trout Unlimited and the US Forest Service announced a $40 million agreement to reconnect and restore waters near national forests.

Of that amount, $1.7 million is going toward Montana’s rivers and streams like Mill Creek—a place Brubaker hopes will be thriving in the future.

“Let’s restore our creeks, let’s make sure our watersheds are healthy,” said Brubaker. “It would be great to be out of a job if we get all our creeks fixed and we don’t have to do any more work.”

But Brubaker says we have a long way to go before that vision comes to life.

To find out how to volunteer to help Brubaker and the team you can visit the Trout Unlimited website.