Montana State University

Spring 2009

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Mountains and Minds

MSU is Trout U April 27, 2009 by Melynda Harrison • Published 04/27/09

There are many reasons why Montana State is a school of fish

Trout U logo

About a decade ago fly fishing icon Bud Lilly began referring to his alma mater as "Trout U" because of the many programs at Montana State University that focused on fisheries, water and environment that sustained fish. It is a subject that Lilly knows well. Considered the leading authority on the Madison River and a pioneer trout conservationist, Lilly guided the famous and not so famous while he was the owner of the nationally renowned trout shop in West Yellowstone that still bears his name.

In fact, there were so many fish-related programs at MSU, not to mention the university's proximity to some of the country's premier trout streams, that MSU trademarked the Trout U nickname in 2003. Here are some of the reasons that MSU continues to be known as Trout U.

Bud Lilly Trout & Salmonid Initiative

The world's most dynamic collection of books and manuscripts devoted to trout and salmon is located in MSU's Renne Library. More than 5,000 books, more than 1,000 periodicals and many DVDs make up the collection.

"Most other collections have a limited scope," says reference librarian Jim Thull. "We aim to make this collection as wide-ranging as we can to give researchers a snapshot of the wider picture."

Montana Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit

Located in MSU's ecology department, this unit provides important information needed to understand and manage fishery resources in the Rocky Mountains and Northern Great Plains with other agencies, including Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the U.S. Geological Survey, according to unit leader Al Zale.

The unit also works with the Montana Water Center on whirling disease research, Yellowstone and westslope cutthroat trout restoration and management, the effects of hydropower on fish and trout habitat restoration.

Montana Water Center

The Wild Trout Lab (now called the Aquatic Sciences Lab) was built in 1997 to support whirling disease research. This unique lab allowed researchers to isolate fish and disease.

"Disease quarantine facilities are not very common," says Gretchen Rupp, director of the Water Center.

Current projects in the Aquatic Sciences Lab include research on fluvial Arctic grayling, factors that lead to the success or failure of reintroduction of westslope cutthroat trout, how fish passage barriers can make good management devices and the importance of temperature preferences for restoration of degraded streams.

Bozeman Fish Technology Center

While it is located off campus, the center has hosted MSU researchers and students for at least 20 years, says Yvette Converse, director.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides the facility and technical assistance to MSU researchers studying effects of temperature on fish, hatching conditions, nutritional needs and other ecological parameters for Yellowstone and westslope cutthroat trout, fluvial Arctic grayling and other salmonids. Federal scientists often act as co-principal investigators on the research.

"It's a nice relationship because our work with the university bridges the gap between academic and management research," Converse says.

Big Sky Institute

BSI has several fish-related projects. First, its researchers study the mechanisms of whirling disease and how land use fosters (or doesn't foster) the disease in the wild. It is a partner in the Whirling Disease Interactive Mapping Project, the first and only Web-based, interactive mapping program of the distribution of the parasite that causes whirling disease.

BSI is also responsible for the development and design of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Node, a Website that is part of a nationwide, collaborative effort to provide increased access to data and information on the nation's biological resources.

In collaboration with Yellowstone National Park, BSI works on the preservation of westslope cutthroat trout.

"In their pure form, they're as rare as hen's teeth," says John Varley, BSI executive director and former director of the Yellowstone Center for Resources, of the native fish. BSI supports the park's efforts to survey and restore cutthroat populations both financially and in the field.

Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center

Researchers at NOROCK are working at Yellowstone Lake to find ways to destroy invasive lake trout embryos that otherwise will grow into fish that outcompete the native Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
"When I started working on this, I never thought we could get rid of lake trout," says Bob Gresswell, NOROCK research associate. "Now I'm thinking that we could get rid of them completely."

NOROCK researchers and graduate students are conducting research on other native/nonnative fish interactions throughout Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and trying to understand how fish are affected by environmental factors such as climate change, fire and habitat degradation.