Grayling Creek will soon be living up to its namesake once with the reintroduction of Arctic grayling.
In spring 2015, National Park Service workers hatched almost 100,000 grayling eggs in upper Grayling Creek. They also stocked nearly 700 westslope cutthroat trout (and 10,000 plus westslope eggs). Collectively, these fish and eggs represent the start of a three-year or more project bent on repopulating Grayling Creek with native fish.
Arctic grayling and westslope cutthroat were once abundant in the Grayling Creek watershed, which includes the Madison River. In fact, Yellowstone National Park was renowned as having the southernmost population of Arctic grayling. Both distinctive fish (the cutthroat for the scarlet mark below its jaw, the grayling for its large dorsal fin and iridescent skin) and historically abundant in Yellowstone, both graylings and westslope cutthroats were all but gone by the 1950s.
“Fluvial Arctic grayling and westslope cutthroat trout are being returned to the waters of Yellowstone National Park,” said Todd Koel, Leader of the park’s Native Fish Conservation Program, in a NPS press release. “Support by our agency and non-governmental organization partners, as well as funding through donations to the Yellowstone Park Foundation are the reasons this large restoration effort has been successful.”
In the past decade, crews from the NPS (along with workers from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, U.S Forest Service and Turner Enterprises) have been striving in partnership to create a secure refuge in the Grayling Creek watershed: 35 miles of stream habitat. The brunt of the work involved removing nonnative trout populations—brown and rainbow trout—from the area.
This work has taken a few different forms. In 2012, for instance, a natural waterfall was altered to create a barrier to prevent brown and rainbow trout from entering the restoration area. In 2013 and 2014, interagency crews used rotenone (an Environmental Protection Agency approved fish pesticide) to remove nonnative and hybrid trout species. Since then, no brown or rainbow trout have been observed in Grayling Creek.
There are a few steps that go into Arctic grayling restoration. Most of the grayling eggs come from Axolotl Lake, near Ennis, Montana; hundreds of Big Hole River strain grayling are kept here to produce eggs. The Montana FWP’s Big Timber Hatchery oversees egg collection. Westslope cutthroat eggs, meanwhile, are collected from wild sources and then stored at the Sun Ranch in the Madison River Valley.
Watch below this video featuring Koel explaining how fish are being reintroduced to Grayling Creek: