Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks
At a Glance
In 1805, Lewis and Clark noted a “new kind of white or silvery trout” as they crossed Montana. The Montana fluvial arctic grayling was once found throughout the upper Missouri River basin above Great Falls, Montana, including in the Madison, Gallatin and Jefferson rivers.
Range: Upper Big Hole River, Montana
Habitat Type: Clear, cold streams and rivers; lakes
Primary Diet: Aquatic & terrestrial invertebrates
Estimated Population: In recent years, populations are so low that biologists with the state of Montana have not been able to reliably estimate numbers. Certainly fewer than 1,000 adults.
States with Current Habitat
The Montana fluvial– or river-dwelling – arctic grayling is one of two populations of grayling historically found in the lower 48 states that were relicts of Pleistocene glaciation and separated from more widespread populations of the species dwelling in arctic rivers. The other population, which was historically found in Michigan, went extinct in the 1930’s. Despite its genetic uniqueness and dwindling population, the Montana fluvial arctic grayling was denied protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2007.
Why Protection is Needed
Historically, the species was decimated by a combination of dams, livestock grazing and the introduction of non-native fish, as well as being easily attracted to fishing lures. Now, the over utilization of water for irrigation and livestock, along with drought, threatens to push this member of the salmonidae family into extinction.
In 2007, Fish and Wildlife Service denied protection for the grayling under the Endangered Species Act. According to documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity, the determination not to list was influenced by Assistant Secretary of Fish and Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald and went against the recommendations of agency scientists. The final decision determined that the extinction of the fish in the lower 48 states would be insignificant, despite evidence that the Montana population is genetically different from the arctic graylings found in Canada and Alaska.
In 1994, Fish and Wildlife Service determined that listing the fluvial arctic grayling was warranted, but precluded by higher priorities, and thus placed the fish on the Candidate List. In 2004, the fish was given a level three priority for listing, but removed from the list completely in 2007.
The Service determined that the Montana population did not constitute a Distinct Population Segment and the presence of healthier populations in Alaska and Canada negated a need for listing. In addition to seemingly ignoring the science that indicated genetic differences, the notion that listing could be avoided due to populations in other countries ignored the 30 years of precedence that helped facilitate the recovery of species such as the Bald Eagle and Grizzly Bear in the lower 48 states. Nonetheless, in March of 2007, the Department of Interior’s Solicitor General issued an opinion that justifies the use of species in other nations as a means of denying protection to local populations.