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Recovery Strategy for the Rocky Mountain Sculpin (Cottus sp.), Eastslope populations, in Canada

6. Broad strategies and general approaches to meet objectives

Strategies proposed to address identified or potential threats, and to guide appropriate research and management activities to meet the population and distribution objectives, are discussed under the broader approaches of:

  1. Research,
  2. Monitoring,
  3. Management and regulatory actions, and
  4. Education and outreach.

Each strategy has been designed to assess, mitigate or eliminate specific threats to the species; to address information deficiencies that might otherwise inhibit species recovery; or to contribute to the species recovery in general. These strategies are summarized by approach in Table 13, which indicates their priority and relates them to specific recovery objectives.

6.1 Planning table

Table 13. Recovery objectives, the strategies to address them, and their anticipated effects (Objective 1: To quantify and maintain current population levels of Rocky Mountain Sculpin in the St. Mary and Milk river watersheds (within the population’s range of natural variation), as determined from a standardized survey program).
StrategyPriorityFootnote aAnticipated Effect
R4. Develop population modelsNecessaryProvide trend through time data. Improve knowledge of natural variability and population viability. Improve ability to identify anthropogenic impacts.
M1. Population monitoringNecessaryProvide trend through time data. Improve knowledge of natural variability and population viability. Improve ability to identify anthropogenic impacts.

 

Table 13 continued. Recovery objectives, the strategies to address them, and their anticipated effects (Objective 2: To increase knowledge of the taxonomy, life history, basic biology and habitat requirements of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin, with a view towards refining the identification and protecting critical habitat).
StrategyPriorityFootnote aAnticipated Effect
R1. Confirm distribution and abundanceNecessaryClarify the extent of the species’ distribution and relative abundance in Lee Creek and the North Milk and Milk rivers.
R2. Clarify life history requirementsNecessaryBetter knowledge of life history parameters will help determine population targets and refine critical habitat identification.
R3. Clarify habitat requirementsNecessaryBetter knowledge of habitat use will help focus impact mitigation and recovery efforts and refine critical habitat identification.
R4. Develop population modelsNecessaryEstablish reliable population models including population viability estimates, as well as appropriate surrogate measures relying on relative abundance, presence/absence, inter-basin movements, and population structure data.

 

Table 13 continued. Recovery objectives, the strategies to address them, and their anticipated effects (Objective 3: To increase our understanding of how human activities affect Rocky Mountain Sculpin survival, so that potential threats to the species can be avoided, eliminated, or mitigated).
StrategyPriorityFootnote aAnticipated Effect
MR1. Water management and conservationNecessaryAvoid unnecessary degradation of Rocky Mountain Sculpin habitat and mortality of Rocky Mountain Sculpin.
MR2. Development impact mitigationNecessaryAvoid unnecessary degradation of Rocky Mountain Sculpin habitat and mortality of Rocky Mountain Sculpin.
MR3. Stocking program rationalizationBeneficialAvoid unnecessary degradation of Rocky Mountain Sculpin habitat and mortality of Rocky Mountain Sculpin.
MR4. International cooperationBeneficialAvoid unnecessary degradation of Rocky Mountain Sculpin habitat and mortality of Rocky Mountain Sculpin.
MR5. Data conservationNecessaryEnsure data and samples can be revisited if necessary. Avoid loss of important information and unnecessary duplication of effort.
E1. Improve awareness of the speciesBeneficialImprove awareness of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin and its habitat Encourage understanding and communication with respect to the species. Reduce inadvertent harvesting and habitat destruction.
E2. Encourage stakeholder participationBeneficialImprove awareness of this species and its habitat and local support for species recovery initiatives.
E3. Facilitate information exchangeNecessaryImprove accessibility and security of data.
E4. Discourage species introductionsBeneficialReduce potential for damage to Rocky Mountain Sculpin populations by introduced predators and competitors.
R5. Assess stressorsNecessaryEnable the assessment and mitigation of threats to the species or its habitat from anthropogenic activities.
M2. Habitat monitoringNecessaryProvide trend through time data. Improve knowledge of natural variability in habitat parameters. Improve ability to identify anthropogenic impacts.

Footnotes

Footnote A

Urgent = High priority for immediate species conservation, initiate as soon as possible. Necessary = Medium priority for long term species conservation. Beneficial = Lower priority, primarily directed at potential future activities.

Return to footnote a

6.2 Narrative to support the recovery planning table

6.2.1 Research

Sound scientific knowledge must form the basis of any recovery efforts for the Rocky Mountain Sculpin. Currently, many of the conclusions drawn for Rocky Mountain Sculpin in the St. Mary and Milk river watersheds are speculative and rely on very limited and often inferred information. Gaps exist in knowledge of the taxonomy, basic life history, biology, habitat requirements, population structure and abundance, and threats. These gaps need to be addressed to refine the recovery strategy and ensure that the species is adequately protected in Canada. To address the need for scientific research the following strategies are recommended:

  • R1. Confirm distribution and abundance: Conduct scientific studies to clarify the extent of the species’ distribution and relative abundance in Lee Creek and the North Milk and Milk rivers in association with habitat use.
  • R2. Clarify life history requirements: Conduct scientific studies to understand the life history, ecology, population dynamics, and population structure.
  • R3. Clarify habitat requirements: Conduct scientific studies to determine biophysical attributes of habitat required seasonally by each life stage of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin so as to better understand the relationship between specific habitats and population viability.
  • R4. Develop population models: Conduct scientific studies to establish reliable population models including population viability estimates, as well as appropriate surrogate measures relying on relative abundance, presence/absence, inter-basin movements, and population structure data.
  • R5. Assess stressors: Conduct scientific studies to better understand the potential threats associated with human activities including water regulation (e.g., dam, canal operations and land use practices).


6.2.2 Monitoring

Regular monitoring is necessary to establish trends in abundance of Rocky Mountain Sculpin, as well as to describe the availability and permanency of habitats, including critical habitats. Furthermore, the physical and biological parameters of river water should be monitored regularly to track water quality. The following strategies are recommended to address monitoring needs:

  • M1. Population monitoring: Develop an appropriate monitoring protocol to track abundance, distribution and habitat use for the Rocky Mountain Sculpin.
  • M2. Habitat monitoring: Routinely monitor physical environmental parameters including flow conditions, turbidity, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, nutrient loading and salinity.


6.2.3 Management and regulation

Some management and regulatory actions are necessary to protect the Rocky Mountain Sculpin and its habitat. Such actions will help to reduce or eliminate identified threats including habitat loss and degradation, pollution, and the introduction of exotic species. Because the recovery strategy is focused on maintenance, approaches should focus on ways to maintain and protect the species rather than rebuild the population or create new habitat. Recommended strategies include:

  • MR1. Water management and conservation: Reduce the effects of water extraction on the Rocky Mountain Sculpin through appropriate water use management and conservation measures.
  • MR2. Development impact mitigation: The development of any project proposals for the St. Mary and Milk river watersheds must consider the potential environmental effects on the Rocky Mountain Sculpin and its critical habitat as early as practical in the planning stages, and must focus on the elimination or mitigation of any potential adverse impacts on the species.
  • MR3. Stocking program rationalization: Reduce the potential for species introductions and stocking-related impacts to Rocky Mountain Sculpin.
  • MR4. International cooperation: Work with United States agencies to mitigate the effects of unscheduled flow interruptions in the North Milk and Milk rivers during flow augmentation.
  • MR5. Data conservation: To provide continuity and future reference, all samples and information (current and future) must be appropriately preserved and/or archived within known repositories.


6.2.4 Public Education and outreach

Public education is essential to gain acceptance of, and compliance with, the overall recovery strategy. Public support can be gained through increased awareness of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin and involvement in stewardship programs. The following strategies are recommended:

  • E1. Improve awareness of the species: Develop and distribute information describing the species and its needs, as well as implications of the recovery strategy.
  • E2. Encourage stakeholder participation:Promote and support stakeholder involvement in stewardship initiatives.
  • E3. Facilitate information exchange: The exchange of information among researchers, stakeholders and fisheries agencies from Canada and the United States, with regard to research, recovery and management activities related to the Rocky Mountain Sculpin should be facilitated.
  • E4. Discourage species introductions: To prevent species introductions – intentional or otherwise, education programs that heighten awareness on this issue should be supported.

6.3 Actions already completed or currently underway

A number of activities related to recovery of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin have already been completed. These include:

  • In June 2004, an early summer habitat survey was conducted on the lower Milk River (Highway 880 bridge to Pinhorn Ranch) to identify possible spawning and early rearing habitat. Possible suitable habitat locations were described but fish sampling was not conducted to confirm sculpin presence.
  • Fall fish and habitat surveys were conducted opportunistically at selected sites on the lower Milk River in October and November 2004 to sample for fish presence in potential overwintering habitat.
  • A water conservation plan was developed by the Town of Milk River in 2004. The plan incorporates the economics of town planning while recognizing the need for water conservation in the Milk River watershed. Generally, water conservation is addressed through timing of operations and water storage.
  • Aerial photography was completed in October and November 2004 to document key macro-habitat sections for the entire Milk and North Milk rivers. This survey geo-referenced and mapped key habitat features for evaluation. Limited habitat analysis has also been conducted. A similar but less detailed survey of the St. Mary River, and portions of the Milk River, was conducted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development (ASRD) in the spring of 2008 to delineate fish habitat types.
  • Signage at Writing-On-Stone Park was completed, identifying species at risk including the Rocky Mountain Sculpin.
  • A comprehensive report on the state of the Milk River watershed has been prepared by Milk River Watershed Council Canada (2008). This watershed basin advisory committee is working with Alberta Environment and other agencies to monitor chemical water quality bi-weekly at ten locations in the Milk River watershed. A battery of water quality parameters are tested including: pH, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, temperature, dissolved and suspended nutrients, chlorophyll, ions, metals, pesticides, and bacteria (fecal coliforms and Escherichia coli) (W. Koning, pers. comm. 2007). These data are supplemented with temperature data collected at Aden Bridge by Alberta Environment (K. Miller, pers. comm. 2007).
  • Environment Canada has resumed water quality monitoring at the international border, where the North Milk River enters Canada and the Milk River exits (W. Koning, pers. comm. 2006).
  • Collaboration with the Milk River MULTISAR Program is ongoing.
  • A fact sheet describing the Rocky Mountain Sculpin has been completed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
  • Water Survey of Canada sites are well established and tracking flows in Lee Creek, the St. Mary River, and Milk River (via HYDAT).
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada sampled fish populations in the Milk River watershed in July 2005; May, August, and October 2006; June 2007; and May 2008. Populations in the St. Mary River watershed were sampled in late August to early October of 2006, July and August of 2007, May and August of 2008, and August of 2009 (D. Watkinson, unpubl. data). New data were collected on the diet, population structure and density, juvenile and adult habitat use, and distribution of the Rocky Mountain Sculpin.
  • Dr. David Neely, in a collaborative effort initiated by the Province of British Columbia, is conducting a comprehensive taxonomic assessment (genetic and morphological comparisons) of sculpin populations in the St. Mary and Milk river watersheds in Alberta and Flathead River in British Columbia. This assessment will also incorporate representative populations believed to be from the same taxon, as well as closely related Cottus bairdi and C. confusus populations. Taylor and Gow (2008) have completed a similar, smaller-scale study to compare the genetics of Rocky Mountain Sculpin in Alberta with sculpins in the Flathead River for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.