GREATER YELLOWSTONE COALITION
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Montana Sen. John Walsh introduced a bill on May 22, 2014, calling for protections for East Rosebud Creek, a spectacular stream that rushes off the granite shoulders of the Beartooth Mountains through undulating ranchlands. East Rosebud is a stronghold for native cutthroat trout.

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Restoring watersheds: Safeguarding fish and wildlife

Overview: Changes in temperature are occurring in Greater Yellowstone and are expected to accelerate in the coming century. Over the past two decades scientists have observed an increasingly diminished snowpack, rivers peaking earlier in the spring, more extreme and frequent wildfires, and shifts in vegetation as the climate has warmed. Perhaps most vulnerable to this warming trend are the region’s aquatic habitats and species.

In September 2011, GYC published a report focused on how Greater Yellowstone’s native trout – Yellowstone, westslope, Bonneville and Colorado River cutthroat – are threatened by climate change, and more importantly, what can be done.

The premise is that degraded, fragmented and highly stressed watersheds and native trout populations are more vulnerable to the effects of rapid climate change. For example, an overgrazed stream with little riparian vegetation to provide shade and wide, shallow sections will warm more quickly as temperatures increase, possibly pushing resident trout over their thermal threshold. Conversely, healthy, connected habitats and robust, well-distributed trout populations are much more likely to persist. Thus, efforts to restore degraded watersheds in conjunction with native trout conservation can be a promising adaptation strategy. In this sense, adaptation refers to actions designed to reduce the risk or vulnerability of natural systems to the impacts of climate change.

This report, “Native Trout Conservation and Watershed Restoration: A response to Climate Change in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem,” also describes close to 40 potential projects that if completed would lower water temperatures, enhance water quality and quantity, improve riparian habitat conditions and expand cutthroat trout populations.

GYC has already begun tackling projects. One example is work to enhance riparian areas in the upper Madison River valley of Montana.

An interactive web map has been developed to allow viewers to learn about and explore the projects outlined in the report. While the challenge is daunting, there are already many agencies, landowners, watershed groups and conservation organizations in the trenches doing meaningful work. We believe scaling up and accelerating our collective efforts can make a big difference for Yellowstone’s cherished rivers and native trout.

Our Mission: To help mitigate the effects of climate change on Greater Yellowstone wildlife by restoring and expanding habitat, and by ensuring migration and dispersal corridors from Greater Yellowstone to wild areas elsewhere — most notably central idaho and Montana's Glacier region.

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OVERVIEW

•    A recent study indicates native cutthroat trout in the western U.S. could lose up to 58% of their suitable habitat by 2080 due to climate change and other factors.
•    Robust native trout populations living in healthy, intact watersheds will be more resilient to climate change threats than small, fragmented populations in degraded rivers and streams.
•    This new report documents close to 40 potential watershed restoration and native trout conservation projects that if completed would give cutthroat trout a better chance to survive in a warmer world.


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Bob Zimmer, Water Program Coordinator

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