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Top Ten Trout Stories for 2018

Every year Idaho Trout Unlimited compiles the top ten stories affecting trout, salmon and steelhead in the Gem State.  For previous years top ten check out years 2017, 2016201520142013201220112010 and 2009.

  1. Steelhead fishing saga – five conservation groups threatened to sue Idaho Fish and Game for not obtaining a Section 9 “take permit” required under the Endangered Species Act for the hatchery steelhead fishery that has incidental impacts to wild Snake River steelhead listed as a threatened species under ESA. IDFG had not received a permit for the past eight years, but had for the seventeen years prior (1993-2010). An informal agreement with NOAA fisheries, who issues the permit, both agreed other permit reviews were higher priority. And for seven years no one had complained about the lack of a permit, including the five conservation groups. Much consternation ensued when the Fish and Game Commission closed the steelhead fishery rather than lose a court case. The outcry was followed by negotiations and eventually an agreement was struck that allows the fishery to continue this winter and NOAA will eventually issue a permit in 2019.  Trout Unlimited’s CEO Chris Wood pointed out, “Threats of litigation, the Endangered Species Act, and bureaucratic wrangling are part of the official explanation, but the real problem is that there just aren’t enough wild steelhead making it back to Idaho.” https://www.tu.org/blog-posts/give-idaho’s-wild-steelhead-a-chance
  2. Climate Report – The Fourth National Climate Assessment state we will have more extreme weather events and we could see more years like 2015 when warm river temperatures in the lower Snake and Columbia Rivers had profound impacts on survival of salmon and steelhead returning to spawn. Fish die-offs like 2015 could become the new normal. See https://nca2018.globalchange.gov for more reading, including Chapter 24 on the Pacific Northwest.
  3. Anderson Ranch Reservoir – How will the tailwater fishery below Anderson Ranch Dam be affected by potential changes in river flows if one or more of the ideas and plans for the reservoir becomes reality? First there is the water right application by Elmore County to pump up to 200 cfs from the reservoir and transfer the water out of basin to Little Camas Reservoir and through canals to Mountain Home. Then there is the Bureau of Reclamation study of raising Anderson Ranch Dam by six feet to store more water. Finally, there is the Cat Creek Energy proposal for pump storage. The blue ribbon wild trout fishery depends on adequate winter time river flows and a healthy river needs high spring flows for routing sediment and flood plain connection. Both could be at risk from these water schemes.
  4. Hells Canyon Relicensing – A step forward in December when the Idaho and Oregon offices of environmental quality reached a settlement on the water quality certification for Idaho Power Company’s three dam complex. This agreement is needed for the relicensing of the three dams to move forward.  The original licenses expired in 2005 so it has been more than ten years of bureaucratic inertia on display.
  5. Big Wood River – A cooperative project with Trout Unlimited, Blaine County, the City of Hailey, and Flood Control District #9 is moving forward to repair some of the Big Wood River problems that either contributed to, or resulted from the 2017 flooding. The design and implementation of river treatments will also improve floodplain function and riparian areas by using techniques aligned with the river’s geomorphology. This and other project work are just part of the challenges and opportunities with the Big Wood River habitat and wild trout fishery in Idaho’s top destination location.
  6. Upper Salmon habitat – A couple of acquisitions will secure headwaters habitat for salmon and steelhead as well as native resident bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout. The Goat Falls Ranch was acquired by Western Rivers Conservancy and in 2018 the lands were transferred to the US Forest Service adding to the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The 369 acre ranch had senior water rights and that water will now remain in Goat Creek and Meadow Creek, tributaries to the Salmon River.Meanwhile in 2018 the Conservancy purchased the 150 acre Cape Horn Ranch, through which Knapp Creek flows on its way to Marsh Creek, which in turn when meeting Bear Valley Creek forms the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area.  The waters diverted from Knapp Creek will be left in stream to improve habitat.
  7. Ed Schriever Appointment – The new Director of Idaho Fish and Game is Ed Schriever who will take control in January 2019.Ed’s appointment as director keeps the streak going where since 2002 directors have risen through the ranks of the fisheries bureau (Steve Huffaker 2002-09, Virgil Moore 2012-2019) or the salmon and steelhead program (Cal Groen 2009-2012) representing Idaho’s interests with downriver states in the long struggle to improve the viability of Idaho’s anadromous fish resource.
  8. Fish out of water – The attention on whether and how long to take a fish out of water and whether it affects fish survival received much attention in 2018 including as part of the top story on the steelhead fishing season.The https://www.keepemwet.org campaign has been around for a few years, and in 2018 the topic advances with data! A study on steelhead looks at fight time and air exposure as well as deep hooking rates, and another study looking at trout in the upper Snake River time out of water and landing time is also paired with a study looking at longer term reproduction effects  as well as a Ph. D. thesis that was produced on the topic.
  9. A growing movement in stream and watershed restoration involves use of “beaver dam analogue” structures, which are designed and built to mimic beaver dams as a method to slow water flows in a small stream and restore riparian areas. Across Idaho the use of “BDAs” are built as a low cost method for habitat improvement. Some projects are coupled with longer-term plans for beaver reintroduction. Improved stream and riparian conditions are good for fisheries as habitat complexity is improved, water flows extend into the summer months, and water temperatures are moderated.
  10. Access, access, access – The outdoor recreation community faced challenges in 2018. First, there was new legislation rewriting Idaho’s trespass laws that took a tortious path through the Idaho Legislature, generating opposition from outdoor recreation groups, county sheriffs, professional land surveyors and others. It eventually prevailed after a rewrite and additional amendments, becoming law when Governor Otter refused to signed it because he had additional concerns. The final version did have a better definition of navigable streams where public access continues to be allowed below the high water mark.A second manifestation was the loss of the local custom and culture of public access in southwest Idaho Mountains across the old Boise Cascade lands that were purchased in 2016 by out of state interests who have begun to gate and post lands.  This controversy will extend into 2019.

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