“Enough to be Dangerous…”
The Director of Montana FWP has difficulty explaining the Yellowstone River Fish-kills…
By Greg Lewis
The following is a rough transcript of the back-and-forth between myself and Martha Williams, Director of FWP Montana, at a presentation she was giving titled “Wild Trout in Montana” at MSU (April 3, 2018).
Ms. Williams has been an attorney for FWP for 13 years and was promoted to Director in summer of 2017. She is the highest ranking-official over the department.
A video of the interaction can be viewed here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qf_99iRwN10 …skip ahead to the portion highlighted below, beginning at approx. the 52 minute-mark.
Me: “What is the FWP’s official stance on what caused the Yellowstone river fish kill?”
Ms. Williams: “Um, so last summer there was the Yellowstone River fish-kill.
I don’t have a good answer to that. “
“…That’s not, is are, are there any of our biologists here who worked on that? I mean, my understanding of it was we thought it was a combination of factors. It wasn’t just one thing. And was ‘it’ there to begin with and was exacerbated by a factor…?”
Me: “As a follow-up to that uh, its come out that, just as many trout died as whitefish? …Is that true?”
Ms. Williams: “Uuuuum, I don’t know the numbers. Cause the original fish kill was just before I started. And we had another this summer.”
– A front-row audience member speaks up, in an attempt to help her out:” It is my understanding there was not enough run-off going into the Yellowstone to keep the water cool enough. So that this algae or whatever it was ended up killing them and Trout Unlimited Montana uh, through their lawyer – ended up working out with all the AG users that were using that water to coordinate the drain into the Yellowstone and its helping to solve the problem.”
Ms. Williams, (misunderstands the input and thinks its a question), she says: “So the question is, whether you, you know, are temperatures and flow right, are critical pieces of that?… and I would say yes. Everywhere they are, and did we have the help of Trout Unlimited and other NGO’s in addressing that? I wouldn’t say solve it, but address it…I would say yes.”
“…So, but that’s part of ongoing work. But I thought it was not only temperature and flow, that those changes or pressures exacerbated the fishes’ susceptibility to these diseases….Or, put another way, those are challenges facing us coming down the road. Whether it’s another disease, not just PKD.”
“But are there other people in the room? …This is where its honest for me to admit there are other people in the room who know way more about this than I do. I know enough to be dangerous. I know enough to care about how our agency responds and responds into the future.”
At the conclusion of the meeting I spoke directly with Ms. Williams as she was standing amongst a group of her peers. When I introduced myself she looked a little stunned, likely afraid I might quote her previous answers, and she said: “I think it’s in all the rivers. Someone told me this, after the speech”?
“It is” I confirmed, realizing she was again referring to the PKD parasite as (it). I only brought it up since there’s a reference to the fish-kills right up there on the screen in your power-point (gesturing toward the front of the room), so I thought it was a good time to ask.”
I handed her my business card and continued: ” I just interviewed a 30-year expert on bryozoans and PKD in my last issue, …you might want to check it out.”
Ms. Williams: “I will.”
Me: “The bryozoan-expert pretty much contradicts several key-points about (it), that FWP’s been saying since day-one. He even suggested it could’ve been commercially caused. It could’ve been the wastewater treatment plant in Gardiner, which caused the fish-kill.”
Ms. Williams: “Oh, that’s good. Because we love clean water”!
She then turned toward another guest and started up a conversation ignoring me. Ms. Williams’ inexplicable response was heard by her peers, as witnesses, and I gave them all a well-deserved look of disbelief and shock.
I then politely excused myself and left the room.