WDAFS 2017 logo corrected copy


Welcome to Big Sky Country! The Montana Chapter is proud to welcome you as we host the 2017 Western Division Meeting. Located in western Montana, Missoula is a vibrant, active, and scenic setting, and a river really does run through it. The rich cultural and natural history of the region has inspired the conservation and management of fisheries for decades, guaranteed to infuse the range of work you’ll see presented in Missoula.

This meeting will mark the Montana Chapter’s 50th anniversary, when we will celebrate a half-century of exceptional science, stewardship, and dedication to the aquatic resources our members hold dear.


Climate Vulnerability in Freshwater and Marine Ecosystems of Western North America: Sensitivity, Exposure, and Capacity for Adaptation

Organizers: Jeff Falke; U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit; 907-474-6044; Jason Dunham; U.S. Geological Survey, Forest and Rangelands Ecosystem Science Center

Keywords: Climate Change, Climate Vulnerability, Freshwater Ecosystems, Marine Ecosystems

Symposium description: Aquatic ecosystems of Western North America are rapidly changing owing to global climate change. However, much uncertainty surrounds our understanding of how changes to the physical environment will affect the biology and ecology of aquatic organisms to influence vulnerability at the population scale. Vulnerability assessment should be considered along three axes: sensitivity, exposure, and adaptive capacity. Recent research has moved beyond the effects of global change on species distributions to include behavioral thermoregulation, phenology, physiology, and landscape-scale assessments to the physical environment. The goal of this symposium is to bring together aquatic scientists from across a broad range of disciplines and representing a diverse array of ecosystems to share their recent research on aquatic species climate vulnerability in Western North America. These studies will cover the range from basic to applied biology, ecology, and management.

The Human Element of Aquatic Restoration: Working with Stakeholders to Plan and Implement Restoration

Organizers: Tracy Wendt; Big Thompson Watershed Coalition; 406-214-2868; Eric Berntsen; Kalispel Tribe Natural Resources Department

Keywords: Restoration; Collaboration; Human Dimensions

Symposium description: The best restoration design alone will not lead to project success without active stakeholder participation and buy-in from the beginning. Humans are, and always have always been, a key part of aquatic ecosystems and our actions and input are critical in developing successful restoration strategies. As a restoration project evolves from idea to fruition, it traverses through the hands of project sponsors, funding entities, design teams, regulatory agencies, and construction firms, each of which must have a firm grasp of the project’s intended outcome. This symposium will feature examples of how the human element was considered in aquatic restoration projects across the West, including tools and techniques for relationship-building, leveraging of collaborative partnerships, and strategies for working together. Many projects around Missoula, Montana including those featured in field trips at this meeting, are prime examples of collaboration in river restoration and will be showcased in this symposium.

Shifting Distributions of Fish Assemblages in Western Rivers: Patterns, Drivers, and Implications

Organizers: Adam Sepulveda; U.S. Geological Survey, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center; 406-994-7975; Al Zale; U.S. Geological Survey, Montana Cooperative Fishery Research Unit Robert Al-Chokhachy; U.S. Geological Survey, Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center David Schmetterling; Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Keywords: Contraction; Expansion; Longitudinal; Fish Assemblage

Symposium description: Longitudinal changes in stream fish assemblages follow a predictable environmental gradient. Coldwater fishes such as trout occupy the headwaters, warmwater fishes such as minnows dominate downstream reaches, and coolwater fishes such as pike occur in the transition zone. Climate-induced warming and changes in discharge are predicted to result in substantial longitudinal contractions of coldwater fishes and expansions of cool and warmwater fishes. In the West, much attention has already focused on the probable contractions of distributions of coldwater salmonids, but sparse information exists about other coldwater species and most cool and warmwater fishes, many of which are nonnatives that have the potential to expand upstream and consume salmonids. In this symposium, we will share research that underscores how these distributional shifts in fish assemblages can have desirable, negative, and unanticipated consequences on socioeconomically important sport fisheries, fish populations of conservation concern, and aquatic ecosystems.

Fifty Years of Fisheries Genetics: Allozymes to Genomes

Organizers: Fred Allendorf; University of Montana; (406) 529-3283; Ryan Kovach; U.S. Geological Survey

Keywords: Genetics; Genomics

Symposium description: No field of fisheries biology has advanced more rapidly over the last 50 years than genetics. Genetic data now inform everything from harvest of the most abundant fishes to conservation of the rarest. Members of the Western Division of the AFS were international pioneers in the application of genetics to fisheries beginning with work at the National Marine Fisheries Service in the 1950s aimed to identify the continent of origin of salmon caught in the Pacific Ocean. Population genetic data and theory now are integrated into nearly every facet of fisheries conservation and management in marine and freshwater environments. In light of the theme for the meeting, the purpose of this symposium is to describe the development of fisheries genetics over the last 50 years and how these advances resolve conservation or management problems. Furthermore, we will highlight how ongoing or potential advances will chart the course of fisheries genetics into the future. In particular, we will feature how genomics can address previously intractable questions that are directly relevant to management and conservation (e.g., the genomic basis of inbreeding and outbreeding depression, functional trait variation, etc.). Continuity and historical context are crucial elements of this symposium. Speakers will highlight where we have come from, where we are going, and what this means for management and conservation.

Montana Chapter AFS - 50th Anniversary Symposium

Organizers: Joseph DosSantos; Retired; (406)-847-0745; Amanda Bryson; Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks

Keywords: Montana Chapter 50th Anniversary

Symposium description: The 2017 Montana Chapter meeting will mark the 50th anniversary of the Montana Chapter – American Fisheries Society, celebrating the exceptional science, stewardship and dedications to the Big Sky Country’s aquatic resources. The last half-century has not only brought challenges in fish species, aquatic resource, and user group fishery management within the backdrop of an increasing human population, but also significant gains in biological understanding, as well as evolving technological, predictive and analytical capabilities. Chapter members have served and participated throughout the American Fisheries Society, helping our Chapter’s efforts in aquatic resource science and management to be recognized on several occasions. We invite you to join us for an afternoon of informative, and sometimes entertaining retrospective view of the Montana Chapter.

Advances in Applications of Fish Hard Part Microchemistry: Concepts and Techniques

Organizers: Samuel Bourret; Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; (406)-751-4556, Timothy Linley; Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Keywords: Fishery Science, Microchemistry; Life History; Calcified Structures

Symposium description: Our understanding of the environmental life history of marine, diadromous, and freshwater fish has advanced substantially since the inception of hard part microchemistry techniques in the 1980s. These advances are attributable to the integration of elemental and isotopic markers to construct discriminating signatures in the environment, improvements in the accuracy and precision of instruments to quantify these markers, and the development of a statistical framework to analyze the resulting data. This progress has enabled application of hard part microchemistry to a broad range of fishery science and management issues such as stock identification, recruitment, and conservation. Coupled with their chronological properties, chemical analysis of calcified structures has also proved to be a powerful technique to resolve movement and habitat use over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. Speakers in this symposium will highlight recent advances in microchemistry techniques and provide examples of how this tool is being used to address some of the most important issues facing fisheries management and conservation today. As habitat degradation, illegal fish introductions, land conversion, and climate change continue to alter aquatic environments, there is a growing need for progressive management to address these challenges. Hard part microchemistry provides a valuable tool to elucidate life-history responses and can complement traditional tagging and genetic techniques to assess the resiliency of fish populations to ecological change.

Reservoir and Lake Fish Dynamics Under a Climate of Change and Multi-year Drought

Organizers: Phaedra Budy; U.S. Geological Survey, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Utah State University; (435)-770-3274; Jereme Gaeta; Utah State University

Keywords: Lake; Reservoir; Climate Change; Drought

Symposium description: In the Intermountain West, the changing climate and extended drought have resulted changes in both the magnitude and variability of lake and reservoir elevation. Many reservoirs are currently at half pool, and some are being fluctuated dramatically over short time periods to meet water development demands. This change in hydrologic regime and volume likely has important implications for both fish assemblages as well as for managing popular and economically-valuable fisheries. However, the effects of these changes are currently underappreciated, understudied, and rarely considered collectively (i.e., across trophic level, across system). In this symposium, we will start with several talks on the changing climate, the altered hydrologic regime and volume, and associated physical changes to reservoirs including limnological (temperature, oxygen), and structural changes (littoral habitat). We will then move up the food web from observed or predicted effects of these altered ecosystems to primary and secondary production. The remainder of the symposium will be about the effects of these altered ecosystems on fishes at individual, population, and community levels. This section will include bioenergetic and trophic effects as well as recruitment bottlenecks and habitat limitations. Finally, we will close with a section on anticipated or observed effects on ecosystem services, fisheries, and management implications. The symposium will be initiated with a talk introducing what we believe are the key issues and concluded with a panel discussion of where to go next (research and management needs).

Overcoming the Communication Breakdown Between Scientists and Stakeholders

Organizers: John Harrison; Northwest Power and Conservation Council; (503)-222-5161; Jennifer Anders; Northwest Power and Conservation Council Nancy Leonard; Northwest Power and Conservation Council

Keywords: Communication; Social Media; Public Outreach

Symposium description: In a 2015 online survey of U.S. members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (there were 3,748 responses) 84 percent said the public’s knowledge about science ”specifically the lack thereof” is a major problem for the scientific field. Why? Three quarters of all respondents said too little science education is the major factor. The purpose of this symposium is not to argue for more STEM education, but to: 1) highlight some of the obstacles leading to communication breakdown between scientists and stakeholders, and 2) suggest ways to improve your communication with the public (e.g., landowners whose property you might work on, industry representatives who might support your work or be threatened by it, and policy-makers whose votes could determine funding for your agency and perhaps even your work). Today, scientists need to be able to communicate across a broad spectrum of platform from Twitter and Facebook (according to Pew Research, 62 percent of American adults get their news from social media) to speeches and written reports to emails to in-person conversations. This symposium brings together communication professionals from the worlds of science, policy, and the news media to help you improve your science communication.

Reconnecting non-anadromous fish populations

Organizers: Joe Maroney; Kalispel Tribe of Indians; (509) 447-7272; Shana Bernall; Avista

Keywords: Resident; Passage; Fishway; Migratory

Symposium description: The need for fish passage facilities (both upstream and downstream) has been widely accepted for anadromous fish. Historically, there has been considerable controversy between resource agencies and hydropower operators about the need for fish passage for riverine or non-anadromous fish due to restricted movements. However, the paradigm is beginning to change in respect to providing passage for these fish. In recent years, with the innovation of small radio transmitters capable of tracking the movement of fishes, biologist’s understanding of the migratory habits of fish has been enhanced. There is a growing body of evidence that some non-anadromous fish make significant migrations that could be impeded by hydropower facilities, dams and diversions. The construction of hydropower dams on major river tributaries has isolated upper basin populations, and eliminated the downstream fluvial or adfluvial life history forms dependent on upstream spawning habitat. Blocking those migrations has had a deleterious effect on these fishes, particularly Bull Trout, Westslope Cutthroat Trout and sturgeon. Connectivity impairment and fragmentation caused by dams and diversions are a Primary Threat in many core areas throughout the ESA listed range of Bull Trout. Within the last decade, FERC relicensing and settlement agreements throughout the United States have required that upstream and/or downstream fish passage be provided at many of these hydroelectric facilities for non-anadromous fish populations.  The need for passage for these fish is likely species- and site-specific. This session will focus on several examples of providing upstream and downstream passage at several facilities for non-anadromous fish. Innovative technologies for moving fish around these projects and ways to monitor success will be discussed. Presentations will discuss how information and knowledge about fisheries, hydrology, hydraulics, hydropower operations and fish behavior inform how fish passage can be achieved.

Environmental Flow: Using Instream Flow and Water Policy to Benefit Western Fisheries

Organizers: Pat Saffel; Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks; (406) 542-5507; Andy Brummond; Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Pat Byorth; Trout Unlimited Tracy Wendt; Big Thompson Watershed Coalition

Keywords: Water; Policy; Practice; Science

Symposium description: Fish need water and so does everything else. Water is the foundation for a way of life in the west, as well as aquatic ecology and fisheries. Finding a balance between water use for agriculture, industry, communities and instream flow has been a challenge. Trends of decreasing water supply and increasing demand are further stressing water allocation policy and practice. The Western Division AFS meeting offers a unique opportunity to bring experts together to learn from each other about the basic need of fish: water. This symposium seeks to inform fishery professionals about 1) the basics of water law and policy, 2) tools used to conserve water and improve instream flow, and 3) the state of the science regarding the ecological responses to instream flow. To enhance learning, a key element of this symposium is comparing and contrasting socio-political, practitioner and scientific experiences.

Transformation of the Upper Clark Fork River Basin - A Story of Successes, Challenges, and the Collaboration that Is Making It Happen!

Organizers: Doug Martin; Montana Natural Resource Damage Program; Vicki Watson; University of Montana; Pat Saffle, Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks;


Keywords: Watershed Fisheries Restoration, Collaboration

Symposium description: Mining activity from the 1880’s through 1970’s reduced the trout population of the Upper Clark Fork River Basin to about 1/5 of its potential. At times, the river ran red with mining waste, affecting aquatic life from Butte to Missoula, where the Blackfoot and Bitterroot Rivers joined the CFR, and dilution provided a partial solution.  Superfund remediation efforts began in the 1980’s, and in 1990 the State of Montana started efforts that went far beyond remediation, aimed at restoring the basin’s fisheries. Montana departments of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Environmental Quality and the Natural Resource Damage Program teamed up with local governments and local citizen groups,  such as Trout Unlimited, Clark Fork Coalition, Watershed Restoration Coalition,  to implement projects, large and small, that are transforming the river basin, returning native fish to reaches where they have been absent or severely depressed for a century.

Session speakers will describe 1) activities that injured the basin’s rivers and streams (mining history, extent of injury, Superfund sites, and Natural Resource Damage Assessments and settlements), 2)  remediation/restoration actions implemented and/or planned on Silver Bow Creek, upper Clark Fork River, upper Clark Fork River tributaries, and the Milltown area,  and 3) evidence that fish populations are recovering (FWP fish population monitoring data).

Review of Fish Passage/Barrier Projects: Research, Application, and Lessons Learned

Organizers: Dan March; HDR; (406) 577-5015; Erin Ryan; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; (406) 994-9912; Mike Garello; HDR Dan Harmon; HDR

Keywords: Passage; Remote; Natural; Barriers

Symposium description: A mixture of short presentations with a focus on fish passage/barrier projects that discuss recent research endeavors, case studies, and lessons learned from practice. A review of laboratory based studies (i.e., swimming capability, technical fishway passage, etc.) from the past few years will transition to a discussion on field assessments and AOP work. The session will be rounded out with several talks on how fish passage/barrier projects transition from concept to design to implementation, design/construction considerations for remote sites and issues associated with removal of natural fish barriers.

Native Non-game Fishes: Ecological Insights and Management Approaches

Organizers: Doug Martin; Montana Department of Justice Natural Resource Damage Program; (406) 444-0234; Vicki Watson; University of Montana Watershed Clinic Pat Saffel; Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

Keywords: Watershed/fisheries restoration; Collaboration; Clark Fork River

Symposium description: Mining activity from the 1880s through 1970s reduced the trout population of the Upper Clark Fork River Basin to about 1/5 of its potential. At times, the river ran red with mining waste, affecting aquatic life from Butte to Missoula, where the Blackfoot and Bitterroot Rivers joined the CFR, and dilution provided a partial solution. Superfund remediation efforts began in the 1980s, and in 1990 the State of Montana started efforts that went far beyond remediation, aimed at restoring the basin’s fisheries. Montana departments of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Environmental Quality and the Natural Resource Damage Program teamed up with local governments and local citizen groups, such as Trout Unlimited, Clark Fork Coalition, and Watershed Restoration Coalition to implement projects, large and small, that are transforming the river basin, returning native fish to reaches where they have been absent or severely depressed for a century.

Environmental DNA 2.0: What is eDNA doing for fisheries today?

Organizers: Taylor Wilcox; National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation; (406) 926-9614; Michael Schwartz; National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation

Keywords: eDNA; environmental DNA; Application

Symposium description: Environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling uses genetic material in water samples to infer species presence. This method has been touted as a powerful new tool for fisheries promising sensitive species detection, non-invasive abundance estimates, and low-cost whole community data. These are lofty expectations for a new technology. In this symposium we explore how eDNA sampling is actually being used to understand the ecology of aquatic systems and inform the management of fisheries today. The field of eDNA sampling has matured to move beyond methods development and is now a part of the toolbox available to researchers and managers across the globe. In this symposium we draw from recent examples that highlight the many ways that eDNA sampling is currently being applied to answer pressing questions in fisheries science and management.

Invasive Species and Fishery Management - an examination of current issues

Organizers: Bob Wiltshire; Invasive Species Action Network; (406) 222-7270 Leah Elwell; Western Regional Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species Taylor Wilcox; National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation; (406) 926-9614; Michael Schwartz; National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation

Keywords: Aquatic Invasive Species Management

Symposium description: In recent years aquatic invasive species have become a major concern for the fishery profession. This symposium will cover many aspects of aquatic invasive species issues as they relate to fishery managers. There will be three primary focus areas of the symposium. Invasive Sport Fish: the impacts of invasive fish species on native populations is of major concern to most fishery professionals. While some of these invasives have no sport value, very often the problems are created by non-native sportfish. In this session we will provide an overview of selected invasive sport fishes followed by a facilitated discussion of how to approach management of sport fish that have become invasive.
 Aquatic Invasive Species of Concern: this session will provide information about a number of aquatic invasive species which are of significant concern to fishery professionals. Rather than provide typical presentations which are focused on a project, this session will feature overview presentations that discuss the species, its impacts, the current distribution of the species and what types of management actions are being taken. 
 Current and Emerging Issues: This session will focus on issues that are particular relevance for fishery workers. It will combine presentations on emerging threats, new management techniques and technologies, timely issues and examinations of management options and strategies and how they are applied in various situations. 
Participants in this symposium will gain a better understanding of the diversity of aquatic invasive species issues and how they can impact on fishery programs. All presenters are recognized topic experts and the symposium is being developed in cooperation with the Western Regional Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species.

Forging Stronger Links Between Freshwater Food Web Ecology and Fisheries Management

Organizers: Erik Schoen; University of Alaska-Fairbanks; (907) 444-3867; Mark Wipfli; Alaska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit

Keywords: Food webs; Ecosystem management; Lake; River

Symposium description: Aquatic food webs and fisheries are intrinsically linked: food web interactions support and constrain the productivity of fisheries, and fisheries management can have cascading effects on ecosystems. However, scientists and managers must bridge a gap between disciplines to fully capitalize on these links. Fisheries biologists working in lakes and streams have pioneered many of the central concepts in food web ecology, including trophic cascades, bioenergetics, spatial subsidies, and the non-consumptive effects of predators. However, scaling this rich body of research up to the large spatial and temporal scales relevant to fisheries managers has often proven challenging. Likewise, management actions such as changes in harvest, fish stocking, lake or stream fertilization, and invasive species management can provide valuable scientific insights, but in practice this requires careful monitoring and controls that can challenge the capacity of management agencies. This symposium highlights the connections between aquatic food-web research and management of river, lake, reservoir, and anadromous fisheries with the goal of forging stronger links between these fields. The session will showcase research with direct implications for fisheries management and conservation, as well as management- and conservation-oriented talks with direct scientific implications. Topics may include but are not limited to the responses of food webs and fisheries to perturbations such as climate change, invasive species, and habitat loss or restoration. Synthesis studies drawing on multiple ecosystems are particularly encouraged.

The Yellowstone River: A Lot Can Change in 692 Miles

Organizers: Leanne Roulson; HydroSolutions Inc.; (406) 690-4223;

Keywords: Hydrology; management; Native species

Symposium description: The Yellowstone River has a reputation as the longest undammed river in the contiguous United States. It is also known for spectacular falls in Yellowstone National Park, blue-ribbon trout fishing, beautiful scenic floating, unpredictable spring runoff, and broad, winding channels. All of this variety creates management challenges and can lead us to view as disjunct sections. How are we working with the river and what have we learned from some of the recent events along the Yellowstone.

Program Committee Contacts

Program Co-Chairs

Symposia Co-Chairs