Montana’s Future Fisheries Improvement Program (FFIP)

 In Environmental Federalism
Photo by Jon Sailer on Unsplash
By Augusta Scott and Carter Harrison

Abstract

In 1995, the Montana State Legislature established the Future Fisheries Improvement Program (FFIP). This program sought to expand project opportunities and funding allocated for fish habitat restoration in the state’s waterways.1 As time has passed, the program has narrowed its focus for the benefit of native fish species – like the bull and cutthroat trout – through earmarked portions of project funds.2 Additionally, the program encourages and supports community engagement from a variety of private groups through the application process, where projects are approved or proposed.3 These efforts are deemed essential to the fish species that are native to Montana’s rivers, lakes, and reservoirs.4 Many fear that without efforts focused on habitat restoration and species conservation, native fish species would struggle to compete with nuisance species for essential habitat.5 Since 2015, the FFIP and Montana have completed 532 projects, 186.6 miles of restored rivers and streams, and 177 cubic feet per second added to instream flow to benefit a total of 18 game fish species.6

The Problem

Healthy groups of native fish species are indicative of healthy aquatic ecosystems.7 In Montana, some of the state’s most well-known fish species, including rainbow trout and largemouth bass, are not native to the state.8 The introduction of these non-native species, as well as the development of Montana’s landscape, have created additional challenges for Montana’s native fish species.9 As habitat is changed or destroyed, native fish are threatened by the loss of spawning areas and, in some cases, the change in water speed and temperature that are important for development.10 Fortunately, Montana’s 56 native fish species still inhabit the state’s rivers, streams and lakes.11 Of these species, however, 18 are considered a species of concern by the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Park Service (MFWPS) and 3 are considered endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.12 It is the goal of the state of Montana and it’s residents to restore the health of the state’s rivers to better support its native fish populations.13

In addition to the challenges that non-native species and development bring to Montana’s aquatic ecosystems, the increasing interest in fishing as a sport can also be a challenge to native fish species.14 Although an increased interest in fishing could also increase the interest anglers have in preserving habitat for fish, the sport can also be harmful to struggling native fish populations.15 The National Park Service, for example, who claim to house 60% of the country’s native fish within U.S. National Park boundaries, encourage anglers to learn about the native species in the area and to practice “catch-and-release”.16

Fishery management is the responsibility of state governments, not the federal government.17 This places Montana in a position to deal with the unique challenges facing its fisheries in a way best fit for the state. With a variety of things affecting the health of Montana’s fisheries, the state’s challenge is to find solutions that engage groups prepared to restore and protect native fish species and fisheries.

The State’s Experiment

The FFIP was originally established by the Montana State Legislature in 1995 to increase the money assigned to projects that focused on fish habitat restoration within the state.18 A few years later, in 1999, the state legislature narrowed the purpose of FFIP by focusing projects that would benefit Montana’s native species.19 According to the State website, any “entity with a good on-the-ground project that benefits wild fish [and the mission of the FFIP]” can apply for funding through the program.20 This gives groups representing landowners, anglers, governmental agencies, civic groups, and conservation districts the ability to influence restoration efforts.21 Each application, submitted at the semiannual deadlines on December 1st and June 1st, are reviewed by the independent citizen review panel that grants approval and allocates funds.22 This panel is comprised of citizens from across the state that are appointed by the MFWPS and serve two year terms.23 The panel determines if the project meets the eligibility requirements, such as the proposed plans ability to improve fish passage or to protect essential spawning habitat, and how much money will be awarded.24 The review panel meets twice a year and encourages the public to attend the meetings and share insights on the impact the proposed projects will have on their communities.25 During the most recent application review process (summer 2019), 11 projects were given the go-ahead to begin.26

Funding for the program comes from a portion of the sale of Montana fishing licenses, as well as Resource Indemnity Trust Funds (RIF). According to the Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks website, “all funding is determined by the legislative session and is allocated in two-year increments…all projects may use funds generated from the sale of fishing licenses; [but] only projects that meet native species criteria can be eligible for RIT funds”.27 In all, about $650,000 is available each year for projects approved between the two application review periods.28 Program funding may be used for the costs of construction or maintenance for eligible projects but cannot be used for any costs associated with administration, monitoring, travel, or coordination related to the project.29

Once a project is approved by the FFIP panel, the project sponsor must enter into an agreement with the MFWPS that outlines funding and ensures all funding is used for the approved project.30 Throughout project implementation, the project sponsors itemize invoices of expenses related to the project and are reimbursed by the FFIP according to the funds allocated to their project.31 In order for the FFIP and the MFWPS to ensure that funding is used properly and projects are successful, restoration projects will be evaluated by either the applicant or the department.32 The department will then monitor each project, nearly 600 projects as of date, every 5 to 10 years and grade its effectiveness according to the eligibility requirements used by the panel to determine if approval is granted.33 These requirements include: improving fish passage, restoring or protecting natural stream channels, preventing loss of fish into diversions, restoring essential spawning habitat, enhancing stream flow, restoring native fish populations.34

One of the strengths of the program is its commitment to engage and involve members of the community when deciding what and how to spend FFIP funds.35 According to the eligibility requirements for submitting projects, “any entity with a good on-the-ground project that benefits wild fish can apply for funding through the Future Fisheries Program,” which includes private or civic groups interested in restoring fisheries in their area.36 For example, anglers interested in restoring popular fishing areas, or educating fellow fishers about beneficial ‘catch-and-release’ practices, are able to sponsor a project. In addition, projects must also be done with the permission of the landowner on whose property the project is being conducted – allowing landowners to have a voice regarding restoration around or on their property.37 The program and the MFWPS also encourages the public to be engaged in the decision making process when the panel is considering project approvals. In fact, there are opportunities for Montanans to comment on project considerations online or in public panel meetings to aide the panel in its decision making, allowing the insight of those familiar with the issues to be taken into consideration.38

Examples of Expenditures

In the 19 years that the Future Fisheries program has been in place, Montana has seen the restoration and maintenance of nearly 200 miles of streams, rivers, and lakes.39 In fact, over the past few years, a total of $55 million has been allocated for fish habitat restoration in the state.40 Of that, approximately $3.2 million has been allocated to the FFIP from money collected through fishing license purchases and the RIT.41 Since 2015, the Future Fisheries program has seen the completion of over 500 projects that have increased instream flow, and enhanced streams to the benefit of 18 fish species in the state.42 During that time period, 161 structures were installed or removed in order to improve fish passage, and 50 structures were created to enhance spawning habitat.43

The success of these projects have benefitted fisheries like the Big Spring Creek in Fergus County, Montana or the Camp Creek in Ravalli County, Montana.44 At Big Spring Creek, the water had been channelized near the road, altering the original flow of the creek. The Big Spring Creek project focused on restoring the original path and flow of the creek and redirected 4,000 feet to its original meandering form. This restoration has improved habitat to the benefit of fish species like the rainbow and brown trout.45

At Camp Creek, a tributary to the East Fork Bitterrot River, the original stream path was also directed into a straightened channel. The project focused on restoring two miles of the straightened stream to the original meandering channel. This is beneficial to fish in many ways, as it restores spawning habitat, and improves water speed, depth and temperature that is healthy for fish feeding.

Conclusion

Since 1995, the Future Fisheries Improvement Program has been important to the restoration and protection of fish habitat and native fish species in Montana.46 Part of the program’s success has come because of eligibility requirements that give the panel criteria to consider when approving projects. Success may have also come, however, because of the FFIP’s ability to engage all aspects of Montana’s communities like anglers, civic groups, government agencies and landowners. These groups include Montana residents that have an interest in restoring the state’s fisheries and waterways. As a result of the programs structure, the Future Fisheries Improvement Program is able to embody many of the benefits of federalism by allowing Montanans to help the state decide what is best for the fisheries in their communities.

Notes


  1. “Future Fisheries Improvement Program Fact Sheet Background and History” (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, February 20, 2015). 

  2. “Future Fisheries Improvement Program Fact Sheet Background and History” (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, February 20, 2015). 

  3. “Future Fisheries Public Involvement Opportunities.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks , http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/publicInvolvement.html. 

  4. “Fish and Wildlife Service.” Fws.gov, 2019. https://www.fws.gov/midwest/fisheries/native.html. 

  5. “Fish and Wildlife Service.” Fws.gov, 2019. https://www.fws.gov/midwest/fisheries/native.html. 

  6. “Future Fisheries Improvement Program Fact Sheet Background and History – Program Statistics” January, 2019. http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/.  

  7. “Benefits of Native Fish – Fish & Fishing (U.S. National Park Service).” Nps.gov, 2018. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/fishing/benefits-of-native-fish.htm. 

  8. “Native Fish Overview.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/management/nativeFish.html 

  9. “Native Fish Overview.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/management/nativeFish.html  

  10. “Future Fisheries Improvement Program Fact Sheet Background and History” (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, February 20, 2015). 

  11. “Native Fish Overview.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/management/nativeFish.html 

  12. “Native Fish Overview.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/management/nativeFish.html. 

  13. “Future Fisheries Improvement Program Fact Sheet Background and History – Program Statistics” January, 2019. http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/. 

  14. “Benefits of Native Fish – Fish & Fishing (U.S. National Park Service).” Nps.gov, 2018. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/fishing/benefits-of-native-fish.htm. 

  15. “Benefits of Native Fish – Fish & Fishing (U.S. National Park Service).” Nps.gov, 2018. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/fishing/benefits-of-native-fish.htm. 

  16. “Benefits of Native Fish – Fish & Fishing (U.S. National Park Service).” Nps.gov, 2018. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/fishing/benefits-of-native-fish.htm. 

  17. US EPA,OW. “State, Territorial and Tribal Fish Consumption Advisories | US EPA.” US EPA, December 6, 2018. https://www.epa.gov/fish-tech/state-territorial-and-tribal-fish-consumption-advisories. 

  18. “Future Fisheries Improvement Program Fact Sheet Background and History” (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, February 20, 2015). 

  19. “Future Fisheries Improvement Program Fact Sheet Background and History” (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, February 20, 2015). 

  20. “Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks :: Eligibility & Application Guidelines.” Mt.gov, 2019. http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/eligibility.html. 

  21. “Future Fisheries Improvement Program.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/. 

  22. “Future Fisheries Public Involvement Opportunities.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks , http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/publicInvolvement.html. 

  23. “High Schools Students Sought for FWP Fisheries Review Panel.” Big Horn County News, 31 May 2018, https://www.bighorncountynews.com/content/high-schools-students-sought-fwp-fisheries-review-panel. 

  24. “Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks :: Eligibility & Application Guidelines.” Mt.gov, 2019. http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/eligibility.html. 

  25. “Future Fisheries Public Involvement Opportunities.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks , http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/publicInvolvement.html. 

  26. “Outdoor Briefs Published Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019.” Helena Independent Record, September 5, 2019. https://helenair.com/outdoors/outdoor-briefs-published-thursday-sept/article_b856b9a5-49ef-53aa-a379-cc5934dc31c7.html 

  27. “Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks :: Eligibility & Application Guidelines.” Mt.gov, 2019. http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/eligibility.html. 

  28. “High Schools Students Sought for FWP Fisheries Review Panel.” Big Horn County News, 31 May 2018, https://www.bighorncountynews.com/content/high-schools-students-sought-fwp-fisheries-review-panel. 

  29. “Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks :: Eligibility & Application Guidelines.” Mt.gov, 2019. http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/eligibility.html. 

  30. “Future Fisheries Improvement Program Fact Sheet Background and History” (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, February 20, 2015).  

  31. “Future Fisheries Improvement Program Fact Sheet Background and History” (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, February 20, 2015). 

  32. “Future Fisheries Monitoring.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/monitoring/. 

  33. “Future Fisheries Monitoring.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/monitoring/. 

  34. “Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks :: Eligibility & Application Guidelines.” Mt.gov, 2019. http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/eligibility.html.  

  35. “Future Fisheries Public Involvement Opportunities.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks , http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/publicInvolvement.html. 

  36. “Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks :: Eligibility & Application Guidelines.” Mt.gov, 2019. http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/eligibility.html. 

  37. “Future Fisheries Improvement Program Fact Sheet Background and History” (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, February 20, 2015). 

  38. “Future Fisheries Public Involvement Opportunities.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks , http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/publicInvolvement.html 

  39. “Future Fisheries Improvement Program.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/. 

  40. “Future Fisheries Improvement Program.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/. 

  41. “Future Fisheries Improvement Program.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/. 

  42. “Future Fisheries Improvement Program.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/. 

  43. “Future Fisheries Improvement Program.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/. 

  44. “Success Stories – Southwest Montana.” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks , http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/success/southwest.html. 

  45. “Success Stories – Central Montana .” Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, http://fwp.mt.gov/fishAndWildlife/habitat/fish/futureFisheries/success/central.html. 

  46. “Future Fisheries Improvement Program Fact Sheet Background and History” (Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, February 20, 2015).