Thursday, February 9, 2017

PKX Found in the Big Hole--What's the Solution to the Spread of Disease

We talked about the listing of the Big Hole on the dreaded PKX positive map on this week's episode of The Montana Dream Cast and I just want to share some info that's a little more informed and accurate. You can click the link below for the CBS News story. (BTW, a big thanks to Stephen Caldwell for forwarding the link to me.) They don't say much about it but do offer a little hope as the FWP biologist is hopeful the winter we're having out here will kill the parasite that has led to Proliferative Kidney Disease, a disease that has killed off a number of fish in a few of the streams out West in previous years. The most notable being the Yellowstone last August.

If  you look at the Snotel report, the water situation looks pretty good for now, which should help with the PKD situation. I know other people like to look at the reservoirs and other indicators and we all have our thing but for right now, I'm liking the snow-pack. We need more but this is a lot better than what I saw a couple weeks ago. Now, it's still way too early to predict what the summer is going to look like as we've seen years where we get almost no precip from now until June and we've seen years where we get dumped on.

Here's the deal about PKD. There are a couple thoughts on how to combat this as well as other invasive species that are infiltrating our streams. First of all, we have talked about it at length but just to reiterate, PKD comes from a parasite that infects a fish's kidneys and when the conditions are such to put stress on the infected fish, the disease takes hold and the fish usually dies. So to prevent this, naturally we would want to keep those conditions more favorable to the fish and not the parasite, which means plenty of cool, oxygenated water.

Efforts are being made to work with landowners and water rights to address the de-watering issues we have that does contribute to the PKD outbreaks. We all have an opportunity here, in that we can establish relationships with landowners and be good stewards of the resources as well as stewards of our industry. We can help improve the perception we have in some communities as guides and commercial users of those resources and hopefully, open up dialog to help improve the conditions of some of the rivers we see in late summer due to de-watering. But is that enough?

There has been, and continues to be, a lot of effort being made by FWP to educate people so that these diseases and invasive species don't travel from one system to another. Washing our gear seems to be the only method being discussed for prevention but I'm not sure that's enough. What I think we need to focus on is mitigating risk, which means acknowledging we're not going to completely eliminate the chance these things can spread but we should do whatever it takes to significantly reduce that chance. What I brought up in the podcast, that has been discussed before, is the home waters restriction for commercial users.

Now hold on. I realize the impact this would have on the guiding community and I am sympathetic to those folks that go from river to river and need to, to make a living. Where the mention of the restriction led to was an idea from Scott Hirschi, my podcast co-host, that might actually be viable and would allow for people to jump from river to river as conditions dictate. What Scott suggested was potentially using a sticker on your boat that you'd receive when you jump from one river to the next that verifies your boat is clean. I'd like to maybe take that a step further.

After the podcast, I thought about this quite a bit. How would it work? Who would oversee it? How would we pay for it? If you were coming over from Missoula to fish the Missouri, where would the sticker come from and how long would it last? A day? A week? What if you went to the Missouri for a couple days and then the Blackfoot cleared up and on day three, you call an audible and decide to head over there? Would you need to get another sticker? By the end of the year, you might have 50 stickers stuck to your boat.

Here's what I'm thinking and I know this sounds outlandish but give it some thought before totally poo-pooing it. What if we had a punch-card system and every Fishing Access Site had a punch machine, kind of like the time cards employees use to punch in and out? On every stream, there would be a centrally located check station where an FWP agent was stationed to check boats and give the ok to fish a river. Once you got the ok, your punch card became valid for that river and remained valid until you went to another river. Every time a boater went to put their boat in, they would have to punch their card or register their boat into the system. If they haven't gotten the ok from the check station yet, the machine wouldn't let them register. Or maybe, all this could be done using your cell-phone? That way, every morning when you decided where you were going, you'd just have to check in on an app. If your boat hasn't been cleared for that river, your boat gets flagged. And if you get stopped on a river you haven't check in on, you get a ticket.

If you take this even further, every boater could be required to use this system regardless of whether they are commercial users or recreationists. Centrally located check-points could be available in places like Bozeman, Missoula, Livingston, Helena, Craig, etc. etc. so that folks wouldn't have to go too far out of the way and we already have the check points set up on many of the rivers throughout the summer where a system like this could be implemented.

This would take some commitment from FWP and money and it would also be a little bit of an inconvenience to boaters and the guiding community but isn't it worth the effort? We are seeing the potential of zebra mussels being spread throughout the West. We keep adding rivers to the map of PKX positive rivers in Montana, hoping Mother Nature will take care of it. We blame landowners for de-watering but are we willing to do our part as well? I say we bite the bullet, spend a little money, and be proactive in order to preserve our waters for the future. Just a thought.

Keep 'em where they live...

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