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Field Reports: Canada mining pollution threatens Elk River fish

FISHING – Cutthroat and bull trout that attract scores of anglers to the Elk River near Fernie, British Columbia, are threatened by upstream mining, according to a study commissioned by Glacier National Park.

A metal-like element called selenium is leeching from coal mines into the Elk River drainage, in the southeastern corner of the province, threatening fish habitat in Canada and downstream in Montana, according to University of Montana researchers Ric Hauer and Erin Sextonv.

The study found five coal mines in the Elk River Valley are causing toxic pollution. Four of the mines are planning expansions. Also under way are exploration projects and a new coal mine proposal.

Selenium affects reproductive organs in fish and could lead to a population collapse, says the director of a conservation group called Wildsight.

The Elk River joins the Kootenai River at Lake Koocanusa.

Stream access case hits top state court

FISHING – The Montana Supreme Court on April 29 will hear a case concerning the state’s stream access laws.

Ruby River landowner James Cox Kennedy contends the state’s 1985 Stream Access Law allowing access to streams within the ordinary high-water mark, and a 2009 law allowing access from bridges, is an unconstitutional taking of his property rights.

“The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that people have a right to recreate on the water, to fish and enjoy their resources,” said Billings resident John Gibson, president of the Public Land/Water Access Association.

Endangered smelt abundant this year

FISHING – Smelt continue to swarm up tributaries of the Columbia River, and their bodies litter local riverbanks.

Despite the run’s apparent strength, and the 20-mile mass of smelt spotted in the Columbia in early March, it’s still illegal to dip for the endangered species – or even pick up dead ones.

Smelt were listed as threatened on the federal Endangered Species Act in 2010, and dipping for them has been prohibited since then. Biologists want to develop a more accurate way of gauging the population before considering reopening the seasons.

Though this year’s run appears to be strong, researchers want to show that it’s not a one-year deal.

Idaho hatchery to boost sockeye

FISHING – Construction on a once-abandoned sockeye fish hatchery project in eastern Idaho intended to bolster Idaho’s breeding program is back on schedule, Idaho Fish and Game officials said.

The $13.5 million Springfield Fish Hatchery between Aberdeen and Blackfoot should be finished by November.

Hatchery manager Doug Engemann said the hatchery is intended to boost the number of endangered sockeye salmon returning to Redfish Lake near Stanley in central Idaho. The Bonneville Power Administration is paying for the hatchery that’s being built on a 73-acre site.

“We’re moving past the genetic conservation component of the program into a bona fide stock rebuilding, stock recovery program,” Engemann said.

Disabled hunters apply for timberland access

HUNTING – Friday is the deadline to apply for 2013 disabled hunter access permits to Inland Empire Paper Company lands. Applications are available through the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council, 487-8552.