For the sixth year Idaho Trout Unlimited presents the top ten stories affecting trout, salmon and steelhead and their watersheds in Idaho. You can find the previous top ten here for 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009. There are always a lot of wild trout tales out there and we try to feature some from around the state. This year we see much good work going on at the local level.
1. The shiny object of a record Snake River Sockeye Salmon adult return in 2014 grabbed headlines and pushed out any discussion of the chronic low numbers of the Snake River spring and summer chinook salmon, which have more high quality habitat than any other Columbia River salmon run, yet are upstream of the eight Federal dams. Still lots of empty rooms in the five star hotels that the central Idaho backcountry represents to anadromous fish.
4. Restoration of the Coeur d’Alene Basin and its fish and wildlife habitat took steps forward, including completion of an important demonstration project on the Coeur d’Alene River.
5. The Bear River Narrows hydroelectric project will not go away. Opposition to this project, that includes a large cross section of society, is still organized and commenting on the idea.
6. Check out this cool video of habitat restoration of the Yankee Fork, trees being placed in the stream by chainsaw, heavy equipment and chopper! This project is a cooperative effort of many parties: Salmon-Challis National Forest, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, US Bureau of Reclamation and Trout Unlimited.
The Yankee Fork work is part of the larger efforts in the Upper Salmon River basin as described here.
8. A pure strain of native redband trout live in Dry Creek, just a few miles from Idaho State Capitol. In December the city of Boise announced a new agreement to protect the watershed and trail use, including improvement of stream crossings, all of which will help this isolated population of native trout thrive.
For the fifth year running Idaho Trout Unlimited presents the top ten stories affecting trout, salmon and steelhead and their watersheds in Idaho. You can find the previous top ten here for 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009.
2. The war on invasive lake trout continues in Yellowstone Lake, an initiative of the National Park Service, other government agencies, and a number of interest groups. In 2013 the commercial-like fishing effort resulted in a slight increase in the numbers of lake trout caught but the effort to do it went up, and this is a good sign. Meanwhile, there are efforts to suppress the lake trout population through killing the fish in the embryo stage using electrodes on the bottom of the lake in documented spawning areas. The donations from fishing groups in 2012 towards the equipment used to track lake trout have proven very useful in identifying spawning areas. More information on Yellowstone Lake efforts is available here. Meanwhile the fishing efforts on Lake Pend Oreille have knocked back the lake trout population to where the kokanee salmon are beginning to rebound, as discussed here.
3. Silver Creek restoration project begins. One of Idaho’s premier fly fishing streams is getting a major facelift with an aim to improve water temperatures. The first phase of the project is underway and more information is available at the savesilvercreek.org website.
4. Federal Judge stops dredging plans on the North Fork Clearwater River. Judge Robert Holt, with the U.S. Department of Interior, concluded that recreation opportunities like fishing and camping and the archaeological history along the North Fork of the Clearwater River deserve protection over the desires from miners who had filed at least 30 placer claims to mine gold from the stream. This section of the North Fork of the Clearwater upstream of Dworshak Reservoir is in a safer place. More information can be found here.
5. The salmon saga slogs along. In September the Federal dam agencies released a new Biological Opinion. It’s a lot like the previous ones, and the previous plans have been found wanting by Federal courts. The last three BiOps have been found in violation of the Endangered Species Act and have been inadequate to protect and restore the Snake River salmon and steelhead runs. This is nothing new as the litigation dates back twenty years. In fact 2013 is the twenty year anniversary when the state of Idaho and Governor Cecil Andrus sued that the Federal government treatment of salmon violated the Endangered Species Act. In 2014 we will commemorate the twenty year anniversary of Andrus winning that lawsuit. Yes the new plan is like the old plans. Yet there seems a glimmer of hope near end of this year as outlined in a recent report that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) asked the Ruckelshaus Center – in partnership with Oregon Consensus at Portland State University – to conduct. These parties completed a situation assessment of regional views about salmon and steelhead recovery planning in the Columbia River Basin over the long term. And maybe in 2014 we can begin to see some progress on a roundtable to discuss recovery of the salmon and steelhead runs that migrate from Idaho to the Pacific Ocean and back.
6. The Upper Blackfoot River Initiative for Conservation completed projects on the upper Blackfoot River, including a fish population study. Then, through effective outreach, the partners worked with local irrigators to restore upstream fish passage and install fish screens at two irrigation diversions on Lanes and Diamond creeks. The two diversion modifications include one on Diamond Creek and one on Lanes Creek, where the outgoing ditches on both diversions were screened. New measurement weirs on outgoing ditches to aid landowners in measuring flow were installed. This work opened up 25-30 miles of new upstream habitat. The projects reconnect critical spawning and rearing habitat for native Yellowstone cutthroat trout in the Blackfoot watershed.
7. Discussion about a proposed National Monument for the White Clouds mountains took off in spring 2013 and many interest groups are weighing in with opinions. To date the discussions have not emphasized the fishery values in the area, one that contains the headwaters of the main Salmon River, the East Fork of the Salmon and the Big Wood River. While the debate and discussion of National Monument designation unfolds in 2014 it is worth noting that stream restoration work has moved forward in this area, for example the reconnection of portions of Pole Creek, and more opportunities exist in these watersheds. One question worth exploring in 2014 is how National Monument designation could help or hinder fishery restoration work in the area?
8. The Big Wood Home Rivers Initiative seeks to take advantage of a supportive local angling community and our long history of restoration success to restore the full wild trout potential of the Big Wood. Our objective is to both restore fish populations and the habitat they need, and to educate landowners that live along the banks of the river and its tributaries about how to protect and steward those unique resources. Home Rivers Initiatives are national programs that place a full-time staff member in a watershed to live and work with and within the local community and bring TU’s scientific, policy, grassroots and legal expertise to bear on watershed- scale restoration and protection.
As is common to all of TU’s conservation work we do not hope to accomplish our goals alone. The list of project partners is long and growing. These partners in the Wood River Valley include; Idaho Fish and Game, The Nature Conservancy, The Wood River Land Trust, Hemingway Chapter of TU , Silver Creek Outfitters, private landowners and Idaho Department of Water Resources .
9. TheOwyhee Basin Redband Trout Restoration project is working to ensure that this special river provides redband populations with the necessary protections so that they continue to persist in the Owyhee Basin as the climate changes. Trout Unlimited’s Science Team recently assessed the habitat and vegetation across the Owyhee Basin, which identifies places where fish need the most help and where TU can apply its expertise to restore these areas. We’re using that analysis to do on-the-ground restoration to protect these fish so that they can move within the river and establish themselves and remain viable. Working with federal and state agencies and private landowners, TU is focusing on protecting coldwater springs, which provide important summer refuge areas for redband trout. We’re also planting native plants and keeping livestock out of streams to improve river conditions. We’re also helping to rejoin areas of the river so isolated redband populations can have improved access to habitat.
10. Lower Boise River restoration initiative will benefit from the announced funding of a grant to the Ted Trueblood Chapter and other organizations to establish the Boise River Enhancement Network. This network will build on the work done to date where the Ted Trueblood Chapter has pioneered working with landowners along the lower Boise River to improve aquatic habitat to improve the unique urban fishery in Idaho’s highest populated area. More information is available at the Boise River Enhancement Network website.
Mark Davidson will pursue collaborative water projects with agriculture
Boise—Trout Unlimited today announced the hiring of Mark Davidson as TU’s new director of the Idaho Water Project. In the position, Davidson will oversee collaborative projects throughout Idaho that encourage smart water management and meet diverse needs, from agriculture and industry to fish and wildlife resources.
“We’re excited to have Mark’s leadership and experience on board for Trout Unlimited,” said Scott Yates, director of TU’s Western Water Project, which has completed scores of landowner habitat conservation projects in six Western states. “Trout Unlimited has a track record of working with ranchers, landowners and other water users to find balanced, commonsense solutions that keep our rivers and fisheries intact and healthy. For years here in Idaho, Mark has been a leader in bringing folks together to find win-win solutions. He’ll hit the ground running.”
Mark has worked for more than a decade for The Nature Conservancy in their Hailey office. In the first few years at TNC, he managed the Silver Creek Preserve. Since 2003, as TNC’s Senior Conservation Manager for central Idaho, he has been involved with numerous innovative land and water transactions, including a number of restoration projects in the Upper Salmon River.
An Idaho native who grew up on a small farm on the Snake River Plain, Mark understands the needs and realities of agriculture. In the past decade, he has worked closely with the ranch and farm community, completing restoration projects that enhance Idaho’s rivers and streams while improving water management and irrigation infrastructure for producers.
“There are tremendous opportunities in Idaho for developing projects that benefit fisheries as well as ranchers and water users,” said Mark. “I look forward to working with old friends in the agriculture community as well as meeting new ones to find pragmatic solutions.”
The hydro-acoustic transmitters implanted in adult lake trout help to document movement patterns in Yellowstone Lake. “This will assist with active netting activity and identification of spawning areas that can subsequently be targeted for embryo destruction. These data are critical for expanding management options for suppressing invasive lake trout,” according to the website. The image above shows the location of the numerous hydro-acoustic receivers arrayed across the lake. When a fish implanted with a hydro-acoustic transmitter comes within 500 meters of one of these receivers a signal is received and recorded.
Idaho Trout Unlimited is the official sponsor of Lake Trout 189. Click on the link at left to see a list of months where data on this particular fish has been downloaded. Check out September 2012 to view what appears to be a rather active month for this fish! The animated depiction of the signals picked up by receivers lasts one minute. It is best viewed when enabling the full screen option on the viewer.
A number of other lake trout transmitter tags are sponsored by TU Chapters from across Idaho. Information on those fish is posted on our official Save Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout page. Other important updates on this project are posted on that page.
The Hemingway chapter had a particularly productive summer, fall and winter of 2012-2013. Fish rescues, kids’ education, access maintenance, plus fishing outings kept the chapter busy. TU staffer Chad Chorney helped lead the charge by organizing an Adopt-A-Trout program in the Wood River Valley last November. Pioneer Montessori School in Ketchum, with teacher Tom Downey and his very enthusiastic students, also participated in the event. The students and teachers, IDFG, and Hemingway volunteers gathered at the Big Wood River on a cold fall morning. While Fish and Game staff assembled the electroshocking equipment, chapter members gave the students a quick introduction to aquatic insects–flipping rocks to show them mayfly crawlers and caddis cases.
Twenty-four rainbow and brown trout were captured, placed in holding tanks with anesthesia before the radio tags were inserted into each fish. Before the procedure, the students measured and weighed each trout. Students named each fish after recording length and species information prior to returning the trout safely back to their aquatic environs. The next morning Chad released “Sparkle”, “Tiny”, “Frankenfish” and their friends to the Big Wood River.
Throughout winter the Montessori students monitored individual trout movements using radio telemetry technology noting that most of the radio-implanted fish were holding within the same reach of river where they were captured. However, some of the larger browns swam downstream toward Magic Reservoir. Carmen Northen later visited the classroom and did a presentation on aquatic insects for the students. She brought specimen bottles containing stoneflies, mayflies, scuds and caddis as well as boxes of flies. Students shared accounts of how they tracked the in-stream movements of their trout buddies. It’s encouraging to see young students so enthusiastic about trout, habitat and conservation.
The Hemingway chapter restarted their monthly meetings after taking a summer hiatus. Whiskey Jacques in Ketchum became the new host for the club’s meetings and comfortably accommodates 75 or more people with food and refreshments.
Last fall club members rescued over 11,000 fish stranded in local irrigation canals. Thanks to the cooperation of the water master and irrigators, board member Carl Evenson successfully negotiated gradual fall drawdowns on several canals. Carl’s negotiating efforts allowed most of the fish to swim back to the river or into the deepest pools below the headgates where they were captured and returned to the river. John Finnell, one of our dedicated and very creative chapter members, built a mobile 300 gallon fish rescue tank for his truck. The tank consists of bubbler stones and oxygen tanks to provide captured trout recovery time and a safe ride. John installed a 4 inch wide port with flexible hose thereby ensuring the fish a gentle “water slide” back into the river. This is yet another great example of Trout Unlimited volunteers making a difference.
Blackfoot River Project
by Matt Woodard
Blackfoot Home Rivers Initiative Project Manager
Two irrigation diversions were completely rebuilt to improve fish passage. One diversion on Diamond Creek, another on Lanes Creek now utilize instream rock weirs for elevating water to the correct level for irrigation while providing excellent fish passage. New diversions will now incorporate fish screens as part of each improvement. This work has opened up approximately 25-30 miles of new fish spawning and rearing habitat that was previously blocked!
The next fish habitat improvement is to rebuild 5-6 miles of Upper Lanes Creek. This aspect will completely fence off the stream project area, build new off-site water installations and incorporate rebuilding quality fish habitat that removes in-stream sediments and stabilizes the banks. These improvements will have big implications for downstream landowners.
Efforts continue in working with the Bear Lake Grazing Company to re-meander a section of Sheep Creek, a tributary to lower Lanes Creek. This project could be another big win for Yellowstone Cutthroat trout. Sheep Creek historically produce large numbers of native fish in the Upper Blackfoot. Sheep Creek was straighten out over time and subsequently lost its ability to dissipate energy. Rebuilding Sheep Creek is another big step in restoring Yellowstone Cutthroat trout populations within the Blackfoot watershed.
The Blackfoot HRI is working with IDFG on the Pelican issue. One goal is an attempt to restore some sort of balance to the pelican population on the Blackfoot Reservoir.
The 3rd Annual Fly Casting Tournament is set for May 11, 2013, at Eagle Island State Park, sponsored by the Ted Trueblood Chapter.
The cause remains the same: conservation of the South Fork Boise River wild trout fishery. And you can participate by entering a team in the event. Visit the Tournament web page here.
A day of competition and camaraderie begets conservation. The success of the first Fly Casting Tournament in 2011 contributed the funds that made possible the completion of the Pierce Creek reconnection to the South Fork of the Boise River. A culvert is gone, a new steel bridge crosses Pierce Creek and wild trout have access to tributary spawning habitat.
The 2nd Annual Fly Casting Tournament in 2012 kick-started the focus on flow management of the South Fork Boise River and in late summer 2012 the first assessment was made of the effects on juvenile trout and on the macroinvertebrate community when the river flows are decreased. Results from this work will be released this summer.
Work will continue in 2013 and following years to assess river flows on fish stranding with the goal of finding a flow management that can improve the fishery.