BLM Dillon Fisheries Biologist Recognized for Outstanding Public Service

Longtime Dillon Field Office Fisheries Biologist Paul Hutchinson was recently recognized by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks (MTFWP) for his outstanding public service related to the conservation and protection of westslope cutthroat trout.

Three men standing in a row. The one on the left holds a plaque in the shape of Montana.
Paul Hutchinson (left) receives plaque from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Photo by Amanda James

The cutthroat trout is Montana’s state fish. One of two subspecies, the westslope cutthroat trout is the primary sub species found in the upper Missouri River Basin of southwest Montana. Once the dominate species in the streams and rivers of southwest Montana, this species now occupies approximately five percent of its historic range due to competition and hybridization from non-native species.

In the early 2000s the westslope cutthroat trout was petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) found that listing under the ESA was not warranted in 2003. Despite this finding, it highlighted the significant threats to the species.

Shortly after the USFWS determined listing was not warranted, a statewide working group was formed centered around the conservation of the westslope cutthroat trout. Ultimately a Memorandum (MOU) of Understanding for westslope conservation was developed that included federal and state government agencies, non-government conservation groups, private industry, and livestock organizations from around the state. In total, 28 agencies/groups including the BLM were signatories on the MOU. This MOU laid the foundation for cross boundary coordination and restorative work on westslope cutthroat trout habitat, and some of the biggest gains for the species have occurred in southwest Montana.

Since 2010, more than 30 large cutthroat projects have occurred and over 300 miles of cutthroat trout habitat has been protected on federal, state, and private lands throughout southwest Montana. Projects include habitat restoration, construction of fish barriers to protect at risk fish populations, piscicide treatments (chemical substance poisonous to fish), and capture and relocation projects.

A hand holds a fish just above the water in a stream.
Westslope cutthroat trout release. Photo from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website.

Paul Hutchinson, who started with the Dillon Field Office in the early 2000’s has been an integral part of this conservation since the petition for listing, formation of the statewide working group, and ultimately the successes of the MOU and its conservation strategy throughout southwest Montana.

In December 2023, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks recognized the success of westslope cutthroat trout conservation in Southwest Montana, by awarding Paul Hutchinson the Fish Wildlife and Parks Outstanding Public Service Award, an award typically reserved for Fish Wildlife and Parks employees. Fish Wildlife and Parks has recognized that Paul has been working on southwest Montana westslope cutthroat trout projects longer than most involved and his knowledge and experience is an asset. His work has benefitted not only westslope cutthroat trout, but also permittees that would be largely affected by a westslope cutthroat trout listing. Currently Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks is working on a statewide conservation strategy for westslope cutthroat trout, and other regions are looking to southwest Montana as the model for this plan. They key to success has been the commitment from partnering agencies and Paul Hutchinson has been a big part of this from the beginning.

Dustin Crowe, Assistant Field Manager, Dillon Field Office

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