Fishes of Glacier National Park Montana
Conservation Bulletin No. 22
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This report was prepared from data obtained by the United States Bureau of Fisheries (now part of the Fish and Wildlife Service) biological survey of Glacier National Park during the summers of 1932 and 1934. The fishes reported upon here were collected by three survey parties. One, under the direction of Dr. A. S. Hazzard, during 1932 covered the region from Summit Creek northward to Sherburne Lake, and also Lake McDonald. Mr. J. E. Hancey and party in 1934 surveyed the region from Kennedy Creek drainage to Waterton Lake and from Kintla Lake drainage to Quartz Lake drainage. The author's party in 1934 surveyed the region from Bear Creek northward to Logging Lake and made special studies on the fish fauna of Bowman Lake, Waterton Lake, Sherburne Lake, and Moran's Bath Tub. Dr. Lauren R. Donaldson, of The School of Fisheries, University of Washington, contributed valuable fish specimens from various localities in Glacier National Park and in adjoining regions of Montana, and Richard T. Smith of the Washington State Department of Fisheries, assisted in the routine work of sorting specimens and tabulating some of the data used in this report.

Since in any intelligent stocking plan the species and abundance of the fishes already present must be considered, a careful study of the distribution of the fish fauna of the park has been undertaken. Moreover, since one purpose of our national parks is to preserve the original fauna and flora of these unique areas, it is of the utmost importance to determine as accurately as possible what species are present and whether any of the native species are threatened by the introduction of non-native game fishes. Comparisons of the presence and abundance of the various species with the records of stocking also furnishes valuable clues to the suitability of certain waters for particular species and strengthens the validity of the planting recommendations. For example, if the records show consistent plantings of rainbow trout in a certain stream but fish collections yield a preponderance of eastern brook trout, it is evident that conditions are better suited to the latter and that it will be more effective to stock with this species.

The specimens forming the basis of this study were collected by various methods, any one of which depended on circumstances as well as the habits and habitat of the species. In general, in the lakes, an experimental gill net was used which was made of linen thread, and supplied with cedar floats and leaded to sink. It had a depth of 5 feet, a length of 125 feet, and was composed of five 25-foot sections of 3/4-, 1-, 1-1/4-, 1-1/2-, and 2-inch square mesh, respectively. The efficiency of this net, when used in the clear waters of the park, was greatly improved by dyeing it dark green. Usually, one, two, or even more overnight sets were made in each lake visited by the survey. Fly-fishing for trout was another routine method of obtaining specimens, especially in the swift streams where no net of any type could be used successfully. In some of the lakes, a beach seine 70 feet long, with a small bag, was used. This net, with 1/2-inch square mesh in the middle third, tapered from a depth of 4 feet at the ends to a depth of 8 feet at the middle. The best results were obtained at night by setting from the rubber boat and pulling it on shore by means of ropes which had been previously attached at each end. Smaller seines were used in the streams in the ordinary manner. One of these, 6 feet long and with a depth of 4 feet, 1/4-inch square mesh, was most useful in collecting young fish in the swiftly flowing water. Sculpins (Cottus) occur among the stones of the bottom, and by stirring the rubble vigorously with our boots and placing the net downstream, they, as well as many Ascaphus tadpoles were swept into it.

The specimens, including whole fish as well as viscera from other fish, as soon as collected were placed in a solution of 10 percent formalin, where they remained for 2 or 3 days or until thoroughly preserved. Small specimens were placed in fruit jars completely filled with liquid. A label1 was inserted into the jar containing the following information: Serial number, station number, date, locality, and collectors. Ecological and other data were recorded on separate blanks in a field notebook. Provisional identification was made in the field. Numbered copper tags were fastened with copper wire on the lower jaw of specimens too large for the fruit jars. These were then placed in a 2-gallon can which was carried on one of the pack horses. A small slit was made in the abdomen of all specimens over 3 inches in length in order to allow the preservative to enter and penetrate the viscera. As soon as the specimens in the fruit jars were preserved, they were removed and wrapped with cloth to form a package, thus reducing the wear on the specimens which were frequently carried from 5 to 14 days on a packhorse. The packages were then placed in the 2-gallon can or if this became full, they were wrapped in an oilcloth and moistened twice daily. At the end of each pack-horse trip, at the base camp, the specimens were sorted and prepared for shipment to the laboratory, where later on they were to be studied. Final preservation was made in 70 percent alcohol.

1This label was made of L. L. Brown's Resistall Linen Ledger, substance 36.

In Glacier National Park three major rivers rise and flow into separate and far removed seas: (1) Milk River, Cut Bank Creek, and Two Medicine River on the southeast corner of the park drain into the Missouri River system and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico; (2) St. Mary River, Swiftcurrent Creek, Belly River, Waterton Lake, and Waterton Creek in the northeast corner of the park flow into the Saskatchewan River, thence into Hudson Bay; (3) the entire west side, from the Canadian boundary to Bear Creek on the south, an area consisting of more than one half of Glacier National Park, is drained by the Flathead River, a tributary of the Columbia River which flows into the Pacific Ocean.

The fish fauna in the headwaters of these three river systems has much in common, as may be seen by examination of tables 1, 2, and 3, prepared from the distributional data collected by the survey and from the literature. Among the 23 species listed, three endemic species—Prosopium williamsoni (Rocky Mountain whitefish), Salmo clarkii lewisi (cutthroat trout), and Catostomus catostomus griseus (long-nosed sucker)—occur in all three stream systems, while Cristivomer namaycush2 (lake trout), Thymallus montanus (grayling), Catostomus commersonii (sucker), Couesius dissimilis (lake chub), and Lota lota maculosa2 (ling), are found in the headwaters of the Missouri and Saskatchewan systems. Cottus punctulatus is found in both the Flathead and Missouri systems but not in the Saskatehewan in the park where it is replaced by Cottus ricei.

2Lota lota maculosa and Cristivomer namaycush are found in the Columbia River system, but no record can be found of their occurrence in the headwaters of the Flathead River.

The similarity of the fish fauna in the headwaters of these streams may have been brought about in at least three ways. The geological history of the region indicates that the fauna might have intermingled before or during the time when the mountains were formed by overthrusts. During the glacier period, the damming up of water along the southern edge of the great ice sheet may have aided in the general distribution of the fishes. Stream capture probably formed the best and most continuous opportunity for dispersal of the fishes. In the region of Duck Lake, just east of the park boundary in the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, according to topographic maps, certain streams appear to be tributary to both the Milk River and the Sasketchewan River systems. Again, in Marias Pass, Summit Lake was tributary to Bear Creek (Flathead system) and Summit Creek (Missouri system) until the Great Northern Railroad dammed the outlet, the excess now flowing only into Summit Creek. This lake might have provided, in recent times, a direct connection between the Flathead and Missouri systems, similar to the celebrated "Two Ocean Pass" of Evermann and Jordan, near the southern boundary of Yellowstone National Park.

The first information on the fishes of the Glacier National Park region was obtained by the Lewis and Clark Expedition which visited Cut Bank Creek, just east of the park, in 1805 and reported that trout were taken (Elliott Coues 1893: 1095). Henshall (1906) mentions that Lewis and Clark saw grayling too. Naturalists connected with the Pacific Railroad Survey parties visited the Milk River region just east of Glacier National Park and collected material that was reported upon by Girard (1857 and 1857a), and by Suckley in 1860. The Hayden Geological Survey of Montana and adjacent territory in 1870 made few additions to the already known fauna of the region east of the park. Cope (1879) reporting on these collections records Prosopium williamsoni from the upper Missouri system for the first time. Cope (1889) records "Amia sp. numerous vertebrae" from the Swiftcurrent River.

In 1874, Dr. Elliott Coues, a naturalist, visited the eastern border of the park and collected fish in the Milk River and its northern tributaries, in the St. Mary River, in "Chief Mountain Lake" (Waterton Lake) near Chief Mountain, and in other headwaters of the Saskatchewan. Coues' collections made known the following species as reported upon by Jordan (1878a: 779-799): the lake chub, Couesius dissimilis3; the long-nosed dace, Rhinichthys cataractae; the Rocky mountain whitefish, Prosopium williamsoni; the lake trout, Cristivomer namaycush Montana blackspotted trout, Salmo clarkii lewisi; the pike, Esox lucius; the long-nosed sucker, Catostomus catostomus griseus; the mountain sucker, Pantosteus jordani.4 The shovelnose sturgeon, Scaphirhynchus platorynchus4 was reported farther east in Montana under the name "Polyodon folium Lac" by Jordan (1878a).

During the summer of 1892 Carl H. Eigenmann made a trip across northwestern United States and in western Canada for the purpose of collecting fish. He visited the region just northeast of Glacier National Park, and from these explorations Eigenmann (1894: 101-132)3 recorded from Swiftcurrent River (headwaters of Saskatchewan) two suckers, Catostomus catostomus grieseus and Catostomus commersonii; three minnows, Rhinichthys cataractae, Couesius dissimilis, and Pimephales promeles4; the pike, Esox lucius; the trout perch, Percopsis omiscomaycus4; the grayling, Thymallus montanus; the darter, Poecilichthys exilis4; the stickleback, Eucalia inconstans4; and Cottus ricei. At Calgary, Alberta, he reported the ling, Lota lota maculosa. Eigenmann (1895: (10-25) records Richardsonius balteatus from Brown's Gulch and Flathead Lake, both of which are located south of Glacier National Park. Evermann (1893), Evermann and Cox (1896), Evermann and Scovell (1895), Evermann and Smith (1896), and others have published information on numerous collections made in the vicinity of Brown's Gulch, the Flathead Lake region, and the country southward and eastward of the park.

3The scientific names used here are the present names accepted for those species and may not have been used by this author.

4These forms as yet have not been found in Glacier National Park. In addition, the largemouth black bass, Huro floridiana; the smallmouth black bass, Micropterus dolomieu; the Crappie, Pomoxis annularis; the Blue Gill sun fish, Lepomis pallidus, occur in Flathead Lake, but they have not been found in the park.

A review of the literature dealing with the fish fauna of Montana and adjoining regions indicates a great scarcity of information about the fishes of Glacier National Park. Numerous papers have been written about the fish fauna of Yellowstone National Park, but even the general papers on the fish fauna of Montana such as that by Henshall (1906), and Cockerell (1908), give no actual records for the area west of the Divide later included in Glacier National Park. Dr. Coues probably was the only naturalist, interested in fishes, who actually visited the northeastern border of the park in the vicinity of "Chief Mountain Lake," (Waterton Lake), while other investigators have visited the region east of the park in the vicinity of Milk River, and Swiftcurrent Creek. No record has been found of any fish collections from north of the Flathead Lake region and east of the Whitefish and Flathead Mountain ranges to the Divide. The fish fauna of Flathead Lake has been studied by numerous authors, but most recently by Dr. M. J. Elrod (1929).

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Last Updated: 22-Feb-2008