Watershed Restoration: Principles and Practices

Chapter 23: Restoration of Trout Waters in the West: Blackfoot River of Montana

G. Aitken

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569049.ch23

The Blackfoot River, known locally as the Big Blackfoot, is a legendary trout stream, immortalized in Norman Maclean’s (1976) best-selling book A River Runs Through It and the Robert Redford movie of the same name. By 1987, a number of people in widely separated sections of the Blackfoot River watershed didn’t see the river in quite the way either of these popular-press vehicles portray it. Concerned with the current and future condition of the river, these people believed that the river and its watershed were in serious trouble and on a downhill slide.

In the lower reaches of the river, outfitters and guides, local residents, and returning clients of guest ranches had noticed the quality of the fishery was steadily declining. In the headwaters area near the town of Lincoln, Montana, a proposed gold mine using cyanide extraction technology threatened to contaminate the river and surrounding area. Independently, parties from different parts of the watershed approached the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MDFWP), the state agency responsible for fisheries, but with little success. There were few data available on the condition of the fishery and none available to reveal trends. The regional MDFWP office was short on funds and had only two fisheries biologists, who were split between two offices, responsible for the region. Cleanup work at the largest Superfund site in the nation, involving another Montana watershed and a large lawsuit, loomed on the horizon. The regional office was overextended—in short, the Blackfoot River was ‘‘too far down the list.’’