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KALISPELL - The Northwest Power and Conservation Council approved $1.8 million to build an isolation facility for westslope cutthroat trout at a fish hatchery on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries conservation manager Brian Marotz told the Missoulian in a story published Monday that he has been pushing the project for more than 10 years.

The improvements at the Sekokini Springs hatchery will allow the state to raise genetically different strains of westslope cutthroat and determine which do better in certain environments in an effort to keep the state fish off the endangered species list.

Currently, the only genetically pure strain of westslope cutthroat trout certified for natural population restoration in Montana are the "M012," which are raised at Washoe Park Hatchery in Anaconda.

The captive brood stock was built using fish caught in the Clark Fork River and South Fork of the Flathead, which Marotz said remains Montana's purest refuge of westslope cutthroat trout.

Sekokini Springs will allow the state to develop drainage-specific strains of westslope cutthroat and restore wild spawning runs.

"When we are all done with this project, they won't all be cookie-cutter fish," Marotz said. "They will be fish from many sources that we can put back out in the wild."

The money is part of $139 million the Bonneville Power Administration spends each year in four states to mitigate the effects of its dams.

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