Sensitive trout may be moved

Hundreds: Avista's plan would relocate brook and brown within northwest Montana
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HELENA - Some of the fish inhabiting the East Fork of the Bull River in northwestern Montana would be captured and moved, under a plan designed to help two sensitive fish species.

The proposal advanced by energy company Avista Corp., and supported by federal and state agencies, calls for the capture of brook trout and brown trout in a nearly two-mile stretch of the East Fork near Noxon. Hundreds of fish would be moved to the main Bull River several miles away.

The goal is to help populations of native bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout in the lower Clark Fork River and its tributaries, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks said. The bull trout is on the federal threatened species list, and westslope cutthroat is classified in Montana as a species of special concern. Brook and brown trout, which are introduced species, compete with them. For both bull trout and westslope cutthroat, the East Fork is an important area for spawning.

''We're trying to enhance native fish,'' said Joe DosSantos of Avista's aquatic program. ''Sometimes we need to make more room for them, and this is one way to do it. You can only fit so many beans in the jar.''

The fish project is part of an agreement for the federal licensing of the Cabinet Gorge Dam in Idaho and Noxon Rapids Dam in Montana. They are part of the power generating system run by Avista, based in Spokane, Wash. Avista supplies power to customers in northern Idaho.

An environmental assessment of the project was released last month and public comment will be taken Tuesday at a meeting in Noxon. Avista, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Fish, Wildlife and Parks plan to have representatives there.

The Avista office in Noxon is accepting written comment until May 22.

Project managers say the work, first proposed a couple of years ago and sidelined for further research, would begin this summer and continue until about 2013.

Some of the fish would be captured by placing a fence of sorts across the East Fork to force them into traps, and others would be gathered after receiving electric shocks.

Concerns the project has raised include its effect on recreational fishing. Project managers say anglers would have the opportunity to catch brook and brown trout moved to the main Bull River, and eventually would have an increased population of westslope cutthroat trout for angling in the East Fork.