Hundreds of miles of upstream Clark Fork River now reopened to native Montana trout and other fish species
It weighed in at only three-quarters of a pound, but it was a native Montana bull trout and that made all the difference.
The first bull trout, a 14-incher, made the climb over the new fish ladder at PPL Montana’s Thompson Falls hydroelectric plant early this spring, a significant landmark for Montana’s rich fisheries habitat. Since then, more than 1,000 fish in a single day and 100 trout of various species have made it up the ladder to be released upstream. Click here to see a video of the new fish ladder.
“Montana Trout Unlimited is excited to hear that PPL Montana’s fish passage system at Thompson Falls is up and running and passing fish, including bull trout,” said Michael Gibson, outreach director for Montana Trout Unlimited.
“Time will tell, but our hope is that the new system will have a positive impact on trout populations in the Clark Fork below St. Regis while also providing connected habitat for migrating bull trout,” Gibson said. “Initial reports of fish passage at Thompson Falls are encouraging. Coupled with the removal of Milltown Dam and work being done on the upper river and its tributaries, the fisheries future looks bright for the Clark Fork River.”
PPL Montana’s fish passage system at Thompson Falls is the first full-length fish ladder in the United States specifically designed to accommodate bull trout, a federally listed threatened species. It’s also the tallest fish passage facility of its kind in Montana. The advanced fish passage system that PPL Montana funded, built and dedicated last year is helping the bull trout reach its spawning area on the Clark Fork River.
“The recent, successful passage of the first bull trout was a significant milestone, marking the first time the species used a full-height fish ladder in the United States,” said Mark Wilson, field supervisor with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Ecological Services in Helena.
“Every time I see the Clark Fork River, I’m reminded of one of the great symbols of Montana’s legendary fisheries habitat — the native bull trout,” he said. “The promising start to PPL Montana’s ladder operation is encouraging for everyone who cares about Montana fisheries and the health of our rivers.”
Before and after this year’s peak spring runoff, Clark Fork River fish have successfully climbed the new fish ladder at PPL Montana’s Thompson Falls hydroelectric plant.
So far, PPL Montana has examined and passed upstream more than 100 trout including bull, cutthroat, rainbow and brown species, said Jon Jourdonnais, manager of hydro licensing and compliance for PPL Montana. “We also collected and passed over 1,000 fish of multiple species in a single day earlier this week.”
Pat Saffel, Region 2 fisheries manager with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks in Missoula, said the Thompson Falls fish ladder, based on results to date, is likely to enhance upstream Clark Fork River trout populations and should also improve trout streams in the lower Flathead as well.
“The boost from the Thompson Falls ladder should be very significant for all trout,” Saffel said.
Thompson Falls’ steel and concrete ladder system has 48 step pools that permit fish to gradually ascend about 75 feet to the top of, and over, the dam.
A very strong surge in upstream movement of many species of fish has been observed since peak spring runoff as river flow has reduced and water temperature increased, supporting the general upstream migration.
Advanced biological monitoring, trapping and tagging technology, and adaptive ladder operations, is allowing fisheries biologists to better support and enhance fish movement patterns and timing of runs in the Clark Fork River.
The Thompson Falls fish ladder project is part of PPL Montana’s federal operating license in compliance with the Endangered Species Act.
Note to Editors: The Thompson Falls fish ladder is now in full operation. PPL Montana can accommodate video and photo shoots of the new Thompson Falls fish ladder as well as on-site interviews about the operation.
PPL Montana provides safe, reliable energy from coal-fired power plants at Colstrip and Billings, as well as 11 hydroelectric plants along West Rosebud Creek and the Missouri, Madison, Clark Fork and Flathead rivers. It has a combined generating capacity of about 1,200 megawatts and has offices in Billings, Butte and Helena. PPL Montana and its 500 employees are dedicated to Montana and its communities, supporting educational, environmental and economic development programs across the state. PPL EnergyPlus operates a trading floor in Butte that markets and sells power for PPL Montana in wholesale and retail energy markets throughout the western United States. PPL Montana and PPL EnergyPlus are subsidiaries of PPL Corporation (NYSE: PPL).