Yellowstone Lake Science Panel Update

Good news for the Yellowstone cutthroat is certainly good news for Wyoming

WYTU was pleased to hear that the Science Review Panel for lake trout suppression in Yellowstone Lake convened about a week ago. The Panel first met in 2008 and and was recently reconvened to advise the National Park Service on how to best handle restoring the Yellowstone cutthroat population in the lake system and suppressing the lake trout. Jack Williams, TU’s Senior Scientist, sits on the Panel and recently shared his thoughts on the meeting and current state of affairs in Yellowstone Lake with us.

“For those who could not attend, I wanted to briefly summarize the science review panel of the lake trout suppression program at Yellowstone NP. The session was held June 14-16 at Chico Hot Springs.

We had 3 charges:
1. Evaluate effectiveness of the current program
2. Review 2008 panel recommendations, assess progress to date, and
3. Provide guidance on future direction of the program

The new Park Superintendent Daniel Wenk specifically asked us to quantify what was needed to achieve a measurable improvement in 5 years. We provided feedback to Superintendent Wenk and his staff on the 16th. I think everyone felt very positive about the reception and interest level of the NPS staff. It was a much better environment than we faced in 2008 in terms of NPS dedication to solving the problem.

The bad news is that the cutthroat numbers, which is the ultimate metric of success for this program, appear to be at an all time low. Additionally, we also have made almost zero progress on two important fronts: a telemetry study to identify spawning areas for lake trout and reconstruction of the Clear Creek weir.

The really good news is that lake trout suppression efforts are increasing and we now have a much better understanding of the level of effort needed to achieve a rapid response within 5 years.

To the best that the panel could determine, we need an effort of 57,000 100-meter night sets per year to achieve a significant decline in the lake trout population. [to understand the metric, if you have 1,000 meters of gill net set overnight that would be equivalent to 10 100-meter net nights] Pat Bigelow estimated that with the increased effort this year, that the 2011 effort would be about 40,000 100-meter net nights. This compares to the previous maximum effort in 2007 of about 27,000 100-meter net nights. This is below the threshold number but is getting close. I would expect that the lake trout population might start to decline at this level of 2011 commitment, but more is needed.

We tried to impress on everyone that this is a very long term commitment. Even if we get significant declines in the lake trout population, it might still take 6-8 years to see a big improvement in returning cutthroat trout spawners, although we should see improvements in juvenile cutthroat survival sooner.

We also made big pushes for the telemetry work. Bob Gresswell has a big grant proposal in to USGS that would fund most of the equipment needs for this. But, it will take more funds to get this project off the ground.

I think funds are available for the Clear Creek weir, and NPS just needs to decide to do this. Hopefully, we provided some encouragement in this direction.

I think everyone felt more encouraged than we did in 2008, but it is clear that the NPS will need additional partnership help, including more funds, to achieve success. For 2011, the NPS has a total fisheries budget of $1.6M of which about 86% or $1.37M goes to the Yellowstone Lake efforts. In order to increase NPS capacity, I think TU will actively need to argue for increased Park budgets, for maintaining the focus on Yellowstone Lake, and to help raise outside funds.

I think all the work everyone did to comment on the native trout EA was a huge success (more than 10,000 comments were received and TU produced the bulk of them). In addition, our review panel will be producing a written report by October 1st. It also sounded like Sec. Salazar would be visiting the Park this summer and that the Yellowstone Lake situation would be on his agenda.

So, lots of work yet to accomplish, but some good reasons for optimism. –Jack

Jack E. Williams, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist
Trout Unlimited”

Gill netters working to remove lake trout from Yellowstone Lake

Thanks to Jack for representing TU on the Science Panel and his efforts on this important native trout conservation issue.

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