Investigation of Reclamation Project Effects and Management Recommendations for Native Fish of the Milk River in Montana Using Innovative Telemetry Techniques

Project ID: 1068
Principal Investigator: Eric Best
Research Topic: Ecosystem Needs
Funded Fiscal Years: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009
Keywords: None

Research Question

* Are Reclamation structures or operations basin contributing to the decline of native fish due to habitat degradation or exclusion, flow alteration, or physical impact?

* Are there modifications to these structures or operations that would ensure the reliability of water delivery by reducing the probability of future listings while updating aging structures?

The Milk River supports several fish species of Special Concern and is greatly influenced by Reclamation projects and a need for evaluation of Reclamation's possible impacts are needed.

Need and Benefit

Many native fish species within the Western United States basins have been negatively impacted by the obtrusion of once free-flowing streams and rivers. These obtrusions include loss of habitat, exclusion from habitat, flow alterations, and in some cases direct physical impact. In the immediate study area of the Milk River basin in Montana, three fish species (sauger, paddlefish, blue sucker) have been designated by the State of Montana as Species of Special Concern due to declines in their populations. Any of these species may become candidates for listing under Endangered Species Act (ESA) if the causes of their decline are not found and mitigated. Although endangered pallid sturgeon have not been captured there recently, this portion of the Milk River is also considered to be historic habitat for them.

Radiotelemetry would be used to track seasonal movements and habitat use of native fish and to assess how their movements are impacted by Reclamation facilities and operations. If effects are found that could be contributing to the decline of these species, Reclamation could use this information to work across disciplines within Reclamation and with stakeholders and other interested parties to identify possible structural or operational solutions to minimize these effects. If it is determined that the facilities and/or operation of the project are not significantly impacting the target species, this would be documented as well to address concerns being posed within the environmental community. In this manner, Reclamation and its stakeholders could anticipate and address environmental concerns before they reached the point where water delivery or supplies were impacted.

In the Milk River Basin, the results of this proposed study could be used to develop scientifically sound and cost effective conservation and recovery measures for listed species. This would facilitate Reclamation's mission to meet water deliveries in the Western United States while achieving compliance with environmental regulations.

Contributing Partners

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Last Updated: 6/22/20