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Trees dropped into Canyon Ferry Reservoir for perch spawning habitat

Posted at 7:31 PM, Apr 27, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-27 21:31:00-04

HELENA — Helicopters carrying lines of old Christmas trees are actually helping to create new perch-spawning habitat.

Started in 1999 due to declining perch levels, Pines for Perch works to create a spawning habitat for perch to increase their numbers. This not only allows other species to continue to thrive but also anglers to chase this popular fish on the reservoir.

“It’s a dual purpose. It’s to provide a forage source for the other species of fish that do eat fish. And also to provide us some harvest by anglers to come out and catch perch,” says Helena Area Senior Fisheries Technician for Montana FWP, Troy Humphrey.

During the winter, natural Christmas trees are collected after the holidays. In March, The Boy Scouts help to string these Christmas trees together with cable and weigh them down with cinder blocks. Each grouping weighs anywhere from around 1400-1900 pounds.

The cinder blocks allow the trees to sink to the bottom where they become perch spawning habitat.

The flying out and dumping of the trees into Canyon Ferry Reservoir is a joint effort between Montana FWP and the DNRC. The helicopters fly exceptionally low in order for one team member to hook a bundle of trees to the bottom, while another member guides the helicopter in and away. Once the load is secured, the pilot flies out to a spot on the reservoir designated by FWP.

This route is a great way to refresh memories and dust off the boots before the bulk of wildfire season begins.

“So, it’s a good way to kind of knock off the dust, work on that coordination with the pilots, get comfortable working around the aircraft again,” says Area Aviation Officer for The Central Land Office for DNRC, Wade Hendricks.