Leave science to the scientists

Monday, April 29, 2019

Their View

It was an illustrative coincidence that in the same week we read about the ongoing battle to eliminate lake trout from Yellowstone Lake, we hear of state fisheries biologists meeting opposition to a plan to eliminate smallmouth bass from a pond in River Rock subdivision near Belgrade.

The lake trout were introduced into Yellowstone Lake illegally by some “bucket biologists” years ago. The voracious predators propagated and nearly exterminated native cutthroat trout. But the park has spent 24 years gillnetting the lake trout and there are signs they may be turning the tide in favor of the cutthroat, but only after years of hard work and great expense.

State Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists are concerned the smallmouth bass in the River Rock pond could end up in area rivers and prey heavily on trout. So they have proposed poisoning all the smallmouth from the pond and replacing them with trout.

Several anglers said the smallmouth provide a unique fishing experience and questioned the need for their elimination. Biologists point to experiences with largemouth bass, which were introduced into ponds near Three Forks in the 1970s and now have been illegally introduced to other area ponds. The largemouth pose less of threat to trout because they cannot thrive in a river environment. Smallmouth, however, can.

This is a case where we should leave the science to the scientists. If the biologists say the smallmouth pose a significant threat, then we should support their decision to take action.

Trout fishing may seem like old hat to many Montanans who have been fishing for them for decades. But the sport has evolved into a pillar of the regional economy - drawing anglers from around the nation and the world to wet a line in the Madison, Gallatin and Jefferson rivers, to name just a few. If smallmouth bass were to find their way into these rivers and begin decimating the trout populations, it would create a fish-management headache at the least and a monumentally expensive problem at worst.

The smallmouth bass have been providing fun for young and old in River Rock. But if the professionals say the risk of leaving them there is just too great, we should take them at their word.

— Bozeman Daily Chronicle