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Kalispel Tribe Signs $39.5 Million Deal to Bolster Native Trout

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The Kalispel Tribe has signed an agreement that will provide $39.5 million from the federal government to fund a 10-year program to help restore bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout populations.

For centuries the Kalispel people relied on bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout for a significant part of their diet. That changed in the 1950s, when Albeni Falls Dam was built on the Pend Oreille River in Idaho, a couple of miles from the Washington line. No fish ladders were installed, and fish could no longer move between Pend Oreille Lake, where they grew to huge sizes, or to downriver streams below the dam, where they had traditionally spawned near the Kalispel Reservation.

“The single largest issue facing the Kalispel Tribe is the presence of non-native species that tend to crowd out, consume or interbreed with native species,” said Dean Osterman, executive director for the tribe’s Natural Resources Department. “We want our people to be able harvest these fish again.”

Brook trout, northern pike and lake trout are the three species targeted for suppression in the Pend Oreille River and tributary streams that provide spawning habitat. Other issues and possible solutions involve fish passage over or around Albeni Falls dam, the need to alter water flows in order to reduce late-summer water temperatures—which can be deadly to trout—and the possibility of creating a hatchery to raise genetically pure trout for release in nearby waters.

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Bull trout are listed by the federal government as threatened, while westslope cutthroat are listed as a species of concern in both Washington and Idaho. These classifications provide additional incentive to get programs started directed at helping restore both species. The Bonneville Power Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Bureau of Reclamation are the federal agencies involved in the program and the grant.

Lake Pend Oreille has long been known for supporting huge trout. The world record bull trout was caught here in 1949 and weighed 32 pounds. It still supports a healthy population of these fish but nothing like it once was. Dams constructed largely for hydropower have eliminated more than 200 miles of streams where these fish once spawned, according to information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Suppression work for pike is already underway.

“A couple of new programs will also be coming on line this fall,” Osterman said. “This is an opportunity, the first one solely dedicated to resident fish work. We’re really, really excited about the opportunities it presents us.”