Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (RRL) in Montana’s Centennial Valley is the most important nesting area for Trumpeter Swans in the western United States. In addition to the vast refuge marshes, there are also 30+ historic nesting territories on nearby federal and private lands. Greater Yellowstone’s nesting swans are the most vulnerable breeding Trumpeters in North America and the only nesting group that escaped extinction in the lower 48 states. Swan habitat management decisions in the Centennial Valley will have a substantial impact on the viability of these nesting swans.
Last year, through our Centennial Valley Project, we produced a detailed report summarizing the off-refuge territories and providing recommendations to correct problems and increase nest success. This year, we are working with landowners to improve conditions at priority territories. Thanks to grants received from the Cinnabar Foundation and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, we are also expanding our efforts to focus on a very important issue – ensuring that efforts to restore lake-dwelling grayling are planned with the utmost care to avoid significant damage to important Trumpeter Swan habitat.
Although this beautiful fish is widespread in Alaska and Canada, grayling in Montana are a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The Centennial Valley is home to one of the last lake-dwelling populations in the lower 48 states. Recently, fish managers have proposed restoration actions that would drain both Culver and MacDonald Ponds on RRL. These spring-fed man-made ponds have provided much of the late winter/early spring foraging habitat for the valley’s nesting swans for over 100 years and TTSS is asking the US Fish and Wildlife Service to carefully reconsider this action.
Careful integration of grayling and Trumpeter Swan restoration needs will be a challenge for the foreseeable future. Our goal is to build a vital partnership with fish managers and conservationists to explore all possible management options and find ways to minimize and mitigate swan habitat damage if at times it is unavoidable. We are hopeful that this situation, involving the restoration of two iconic, vulnerable populations, will become a showcase effort of integrated management for vulnerable species with overlapping ranges that have differing habitat needs.
This article by TTSS Board Member Ruth Shea appeared in the July 2012 issue of Trumpetings, Vol. XXII, No. 2. Members of the Society receive this publication three times each year.
Find the detailed report summarizing TTSS’ recommendations for the Centennial Valley and more on the Greater Yellowstone Initiative (GYTSI):