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Montana Offers Job Training for People Affected by Yellowstone Closure

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Montana officials have shut down a 183-mile stretch of the Yellowstone River due to a parasite infecting whitefish. (Kurt Haubrich/Flickr)
Montana officials have shut down a 183-mile stretch of the Yellowstone River due to a parasite infecting whitefish. (Kurt Haubrich/Flickr)
August 30, 2016

HELENA, Mont. - Governor Steve Bullock held a meeting yesterday about access to resources and job training for Montanans who have been affected by the closure of nearly 200 miles of the Yellowstone River due to a parasite killing whitefish.

Earlier this month, the stretch of river and its tributaries were shut down to all recreational activities. The governor is encouraging people to use the resources the state is making available.

Dan Vermillion, chairman of Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission, said the state has to be creative with its response because the closure of such a long stretch of river is unprecedented.

"This is a new event, it's not like an oil spill or a fire," he said. "So it doesn't really fit into a neat little cubbyhole like some of those more traditional events do, and so they've been working really hard to try to figure out how to dovetail different programs to this particular pattern."

Resources and training are being coordinated through the "Rapid Response Unit," created through the Dislocated Workers Program and with state and local partners such as Job Service Livingston. Governor Steve Bullock said outdoor recreation in Montana supports 64,000 jobs and brings in nearly $6 billion annually.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks found at least 4,000 whitefish dead from the parasite this month, and suspect the microbe has killed at least 20,000. Officials are worried the parasite could infect rainbow and cutthroat trout, critical species to recreation fishing in the region, if the fish are stressed by activity on the river.

Michael Kent, professor of microbiology and biomedical sciences at Oregon State University, said lowering stress is key to their recovery.

"So when these animals are sick, you want to keep them as quiet as possible and let them go through the infection and then they'll develop immunity," he said. "So, the active disease is going to last, oh, maybe a month or so and so you would want to keep them as healthy as possible."

The Yellowstone River has seen near-historic lows in streamflow and temperatures well above average. Kent said the spread of the parasite is activated by warm waters and, as climate change increases temperature, events like this could become more common. The state has not laid out a timeline for reopening the river.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT