Winter 2022

Newsletter Archive


External Project Highlight: Blackfoot Confederacy (BFC) Native Trout Recovery Project

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A Multi-Agency Partnership Focused on West Slope Cutthroat & Bull Trout in the Bow & Oldman River Watersheds

It is common knowledge among the Blackfoot people (Amskappi Pikunni, Kainai, Piikani & Sisika Nations) that water and fish have been sacred since time immemorial. Their existence has always been well respected and sustained within Blackfoot Territory. It has been well documented that the Bow and Oldman River watersheds, that are now located in the Alberta portion of Blackfoot Territory, are historically significant to the Blackfoot.

In recent years, the status of two of Alberta's native trout species-West Slope Cutthroat (CTTR) & Bull Trout (BLTR)-has been downgraded and listed as "threatened" by the Committee on the Status of Wild Species in Canada (COSEWIC). CTTR & BLTR populations in Alberta (including the Bow & Oldman River watersheds) have been progressively declining over the past century due to a number of factors, namely, cumulative effects from over-harvesting and habitat degradation and loss due to human development and use (including mining, logging, cultivation & crop production, over grazing, irrigation water diversions, off highway vehicle (OHV) use in headwater areas and more recently, global warming). CTTR & BLTR are biological indicators of ecological integrity, so their continued presence in Alberta's streams is an indication that the health of those streams and watersheds is good, for the most part. The downgrading of the status of these 2 fish species by COSEWIC to "threatened" is also an indicator that their continued existence is obviously threatened and will not improve unless significant measures are taken to mitigate future damage to their populations and habitats.

To assist in addressing declining populations of CTTR and BLTR in part of Blackfoot Territory, an opportunity arose in 2020 that the BFC Tribal Council pursued with the Aboriginal Fund for Species at Risk (AFSAR) Program, administered by the Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO) Canada. A funding proposal was successfully submitted by the BFC to the AFSAR Program to conduct a multi-agency partnership project focussed on CTTR & BLTR in the Bow & Oldman River watersheds in southern Alberta.

The project was supported by 13 government & non-government agencies (BFC, Aamskappi Piikunni, Kainai, Piikani & Siksika Nations, DFO, Parks Canada - Waterton Lakes, Alberta Environment and Parks, Oldman Watershed Council, Cows & Fish, Trout Unlimited Canada, University of Victoria - Dr. Karen Helbing Lab & AJM Environmental) with the following objectives:

  1. One (1) Field Technician from each Blackfoot Nation to participate (Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Blackfeet Tribe in Montana was unable to participate in the field activities due to border crossing issues);
  2. To conduct Environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling in various tributaries of the Oldman & Bow River watersheds to determine the presence/absence of cutthroat and bull trout (and other introduced trout species);
  3. To install water temperature loggers in various tributaries of the Oldman & Bow River watersheds;
  4. To conduct stream habitat assessments and work with various government & non-government agencies (NGO's) to restore stream habitat that's been negatively affected by human development;
  5. To conduct cutthroat and bull trout redd surveys in various tributaries of the Oldman and Bow River watersheds, to confirm cutthroat & bull trout spawning activity (due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the start of the project was delayed until mid-August. As a result, Cutthroat Trout redd surveys weren't conducted);
  6. To interview elders from each of the four (4) Blackfoot nations to document Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) regarding the significance of native trout, water & Blackfoot place names in traditional Blackfoot Territory.

For more information, please see the 2020-21 final project report and The Significance of Fish and Water to the Blackfoot People. In 2021, the AFSAR program subsequently approved the BFC Native Trout Recovery Project to continue for another two years, FY 2021-23. The 2021-22 Year 2 report will be made available once it is completed and approved this March.