Portions Of Yellowstone River Reopened To Some Recreation
State Wildlife officials today re-opened portions of the Yellowstone River and most of its tributaries, but it kept a popular stretch of the waterway closed to all recreational activity because of a parasite that’s killed thousands of fish.
State officials today lifted the closure outright along more than 100 miles of river between Livingston and Laurel. But they kept closed a 51-mile stretch of the Yellowstone in the Paradise Valley.
In a conference call with wildlife commissioners today, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Fisheries Manager Travis Horton says the numbers of mountain whitefish found dead in that area appears to be decreasing.
"The first week they counted about 350 dead fish, the second week 700, the third week about 1,900, and then last week was 900. So we did see a decline in the numbers of dead fish in that reach."
That reach is from the Highway 89 bridge just east of Livingston upstream to the Carbella fishing access.
Upstream from Carbella, the 26-mile stretch of the river up to the border with Yellowstone National Park is now open to all recreation except fishing. That’s due to worries that trout infected with the parasite could die if they face additional pressure from anglers.
The closure had effectively shut down dozens of fishing outfitters, rafting companies and other businesses that depend on money generated by the region's outdoors industry.
State Fish and Wildlife Commission Chairman Dan Vermillion, who also works for a guide service based in the Paradise Valley, said it’s important for people outside Montana to hear that nearly all the fish killed by the parasite so far appear to have been mountain whitefish.
"Fish kill at this point has not affected the trout fishery and the trout population."
Vermillion said he sympathized with those suffering economic harm but that wildlife managers had to close the river to protect its long-term health.
The unprecedented move came after dead mountain whitefish started washing up on the river's banks downstream from the national park. Wildlife officials estimate tens of thousands of fish likely died.
Most of the Yellowstone's tributaries also were re-opened today, except for the Shields River and streams that drain into it. Infected fish have been found in the Shields, and Fish, Wildlife and Parks Director Jeff Hagener said the agency wanted to protect its cutthroat trout fishery.
State biologists also reported finding the parasite blamed for the Yellowstone fish kill in the Jefferson River, part of the Missouri River drainage. The problem was not considered as severe as the Yellowstone, and the Jefferson remains open.
Additional watercraft inspection stations will be set up to make sure people who use the river are properly cleaning their boats and equipment to prevent the deadly parasite's spread.
Gov. Steve Bullock on Monday declared an "invasive species emergency" that allows Montana to spend up to $15.4 million on worker retention grants and other programs.
Biologists say outbreaks of the parasite are possible in future years now that it's been established in the Yellowstone.