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Top Ten Trout 2016

Welcome to the end of 2016 and our 8th Annual Idaho Trout Unlimited’s ten trout tales, or stories affecting trout, salmon and steelhead and their watersheds in Idaho.   You can find the previous top ten stories for 201520142013201220112010 and 2009.
  1. Simon Says.  US District Court Judge Michael Simon ruled in May 2016 that the 2014 Biological Opinion on the Federal Columbia River dams violates the Endangered Species Act for failing to protect ESA-listed salmon and steelhead runs.  Later in the year the judge approved a timeline for the federal agencies to launch a new Environmental Impact Statement process that will take up to five years to complete.  Public open house events were held around the region in November and December.
  2. Bear River Narrows Dam is still dead.  In 2015 the staff for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recommended in an EIS that the license be denied for the Bear Rivers Narrows dam.  In June 2016 the FERC issued an official order (.pdf) denying the application for a federal hydropower license.
  3. Henry’s Fork Challenges.  As stated by the Henry’s Fork Foundation, “this was a year of unprecedented strain on fish populations and fishing opportunities. The Henry’s Fork watershed was not immune. The double whammy of early runoff and drier-than-normal conditions has robbed fish of sustained flows of cold water that they need. As we learn how to work with these challenges across western states, forging and sharing best practices watershed to watershed, your commitment to one of the world’s greatest fly-fishing streams is needed more than ever.”
  4. Arrowrock Intact, for now.  In May, the US Army Corps of Engineers stunned the Idaho Water Resource Board by walking away from a proposal to rebuild and raise Arrowrock Dam another 70 feet, adding to the already 348 foot tall structure and flooding more miles of free flowing, trout friendly waters in the South Fork Boise River and Middle Fork Boise River.  The additional backwater would convert the bull trout habitat to more seasonal slack water.  While the Corps determined the project has less than a 1:1 cost benefit ratio don’t count out attempts in the future to come up with a way to increase the reservoir.
  5. Water Sustainability Policy.  In November the Idaho Water Resource Board adopted a water sustainability policy (.pdf), an amendment to the state’s Comprehensive Water Resources Plan.  Thanks to efforts of many gourds and individuals including the Trout Unlimited Idaho Water Project Office the policy was strengthened and more balanced about multiple uses of water.  A prime example is the May 2016 draft policy makes no reference to fish whereas the adopted policy is does, and is better for it.
  6. Hunters and anglers support public lands.  A joint hearing at the Idaho Legislature in February was staged to hear from a couple of lawmakers from the state of Utah who visited Boise to pitch the Idaho Legislature on the Utah efforts to wrest control of public lands managed by federal government
    <em>Full house of opposition to state takeover of public lands.</em>
    Full house of opposition to state takeover of public lands.
    agencies with civil service professionals and turn the lands over to an uncertain future of state management until the next fiscal crisis occurs, where the lands would be vulnerable to sale and privatization.  The majority of people in the seats were there in opposition to this talk about transfer of public lands to the states.  Social media had churned through the weekend to get hunters, anglers, outdoors enthusiasts and conservation interests to show up for the hearing.  That there was no mingling among the crowd and legislators before the hearing indicated this was largely a Boise crowd who were there to show opposition to the land transfer ideas.
  7. Suction Dredge Mining.  The long-running, sometimes contentious topic of suction dredge mining of Idaho waters for “recreational” or commercial purposes continued it chronic presence in the state.  But some clearing of the issue appears to be happening, not unlike the shutting off of dredge discharge into a stream leads to a clearing of the waters.  First, the Idaho Legislature heard testimony on House Bill 510 in February and after three hours hearing from supporters and opponents of the bill (Trout Unlimited was well represented among the opponents), voted to hold the bill in committee where it died for the session.  Later in the year the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest issued a decision to allow for recreational dredge mining in the South Fork Clearwater River and a couple other streams under limited and strict conditions.  This decision at least provides an outlet for people at an appropriate time and place.  Finally late in the year the Environmental Protection Agency announced a settlement and fine of an individual for violation of the Clean Water Act for conducting dredge mining activities without the proper permits.  We hope this issue can continue to be dealt with the rational approach demonstrated in 2016.
  8. eDNA. Use of eDNA is transforming aquatic assessment to be able to reach greater geographic areas to detect presence or absence of species.  Some interesting information about it can be found on this Forest Service web page.
  9. Pole Creek restoration. … enjoy this video!
  10. Fish Handling.  Angler awareness about the effects of how fish are handled as part of a catch and release fishery  (or variations like slot limits etc.) is leading to a burgeoning movement to raise awareness about fish handling practices.  See for example the website.  Some progress was made on this topic with the early 2016 publication for the fishing rules.  See information about that at this story.

Salmon, Steelhead, Taxes & Dams

Sunday, July 31st, 2016 @ 6 PM
Best Western Lodge, McCall, ID

Monday August 1st, 2016 @ 6:15 PM
The Community Campus, Hailey, ID

In these presentations, Jim Waddell will be delivering a compelling presentation on why the four Lower Snake River dams must be breached. New light will be cast on the 2002 Feasibility Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers. That report evaluates three non-breach alternatives and one breach alternative. Data corrections to the 2002 EIS identified by several recent economic reports developed by Earth Economics of Tacoma will also be shared. When these analyses are framed within the context of threatened and endangered salmon, steelhead and endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales, they become an extremely relevant motivator for dam breaching in the immediate future and present a win-win-win opportunity for Idahoans.
About the presenter:
Jim Waddell, retired civil engineer from the Army Corps of Engineers, was Deputy District Engineer for Programs at the Walla Walla District during the 2002 EIS study. His spontaneous statements made about the dams at a community meeting in 2011 are featured in the 2014 documentary movie DamNation. Since then he has been working to shine a light on data from the 2002 EIS, and to correct erroneous assumptions made then. He is in a unique position to know the details and the story behind that report and the folly that has followed.

Yellowstone Meadows Report – June 2016

By Dave Sweet

I thought you all might be interested in a fishing report from Walt Gasson (Director, TU Endorsed Businesses) on a trip he recently made into the Thorofare to fish for native Yellowstone cutthroats with Dave Hettinger Outfitting. Please read his report at this link. Sounds like he not only had a great time, but also got to witness what can only be described as a remarkable number of cutthroats in the system. I know we sometimes get discouraged by the slow progress to recover this population of cutts in Yellowstone Lake; however, his report puts our work into context. Along with the sightings this spring of grizzlies again feeding on cutthroats, we now have further indications that our work is leading to success. And, it sounds like a significant number of other people made the same arduous trip to take advantage of the increasing spawning run. Not too many years ago, no one was going to the trouble of going into the Thorofare to fish! Walt is planning to write up his trip for an article submitted to Trout Unlimited’s magazine Trout. Hopefully, other publications will follow suit.

I would like to add my own observations from our angling days on Yellowstone Lake in June to catch lake trout for the telemetry study. Over 95 volunteers in 19 different boats were trying to catch lake trout in order to surgically implant the hydro-acoustic transmitters. We were targeting lake trout; fishing deep with big spoons. Yet, over the course of five days we repeatedly caught way more cutthroats than lake trout. In fact, the ratio was almost 3 to 1. This occurred over many different areas of the lake using what would normally not be thought of as cutthroat techniques. The results were quite surprising.

We should all feel a sense of pride that our efforts are paying off. Please share this report with anyone else you feel would like to read it.
Dave Sweet
Yellowstone Lake Special Project Manager, WY TU

Sun Valley Single Fly July 16-17

The Sun Valley Single Fly is fast approaching, and we’ve got a few spots left…sign up a team today! The SVSF is a really fun weekend that benefits our beloved Big Wood River, and Trout Unlimited and the Wood River Land Trust hope you can make it on July 16th and 17th.
We’ve got some incredible auction items this year – fly reels (Waterworks-Lamson, Orvis), fly rods (Sage, Winston), fly lines (RIO), a few surprises…and an absolutely amazing trip to Patagonia (Magic Waters Lodge)!
If you’d like to attend the dinner and fundraiser on Saturday night, but don’t want to participate in the fishing, you are invited!
Keep in mind that all entry fees, donations, etc. are fully tax deductible.
If you have any questions at all, please let me know. Hope to see you in a couple of weeks!n
PS – please pass this information along to anyone that you feel might be interested…
R. Chad Chorney / Big Wood River Project Manager  / 208-420-4096

Trout Unlimited 
308 N. Main St.Hailey, ID 83333

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout Update

Cathy and I just got home from 7 days up on Yellowstone Lake with all of you. What a great experience it was for us. I have never before been involved with such a great group of volunteers who freely gave of their time, their resources, and their energy to help save an imperiled species, the cutthroats of Yellowstone Lake.

Even in the face of great adversity (real lousy and even dangerous weather conditions), not one individual complained. Everyone pitched in. We got rained on, hailed on, lightning struck close by several times, the water was rough enough on three of the days to pound even the biggest of the boats, and several of you fought off boat problems to go wherever your boat would go to help. In spite of all of the hardships, every morning each of you had a smile on your face and were willing to face it all again with unbelievable enthusiasm.

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Attacks on clean water, public lands and Idaho Fish and Game thwarted at Idaho Legislature

The second regular session of the Sixty-third Idaho Legislature called Sine Die in March after seventy-five legislative days.  As usual, attacks on clean water, public lands and the state’s fish and game agency were not in short supply.  Trout Unlimited and its conservation partners were kept busy from day one heading off a slew of bills attempting to expand small-scale suction dredge mining in the state, transfer federal land ownership to the state and politicize fish and game management.  

Straight out of the gate, S1236 was introduced in Senate Resource and Environment by Senator Steve Bair (R-Blackfoot).  This bill would have mandated that the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Commission issue twelve Governor’s tags for trophy game species, removing the Commission’s discretion of using science and public input to make game management decisions.  A fundamental shift towards politicizing fish and game management in Idaho, this bill would run contrary to why the Commission was established over 75 years ago.  TU and a myriad of other sportsmen groups, with help from the Commission itself, sent a strong message to legislators that the bill was unacceptable. It never got a hearing in committee.  

Click here for more news

Next up, HB 510 was introduced in House Resource and Conservation by Representative Paul Shepherd (R-Riggins).  HB 510 would have drastically increased the scope and impact of what the bill defined as “small-scale” suction dredge mining while simultaneously deregulating the practice from any state oversight.  Increasing equipment size and eliminating horsepower restrictions, the bill would have allowed dredgers to move up to five cubic yards of sediment per hour.  HB 510’s Achilles heel was that the new statute attempted to remove small-scale dredging from the EPA’s list of point source pollutants.  After testimony from TU leaders, Idaho Department of Water Resources, the State Attorney General and others, the committee unanimously voted to return the bill to its sponsor.  

Click here and listen here for more news

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Meeting Jan. 23 to form new TU Chapter in northern Idaho

Greetings TU members,

I am writing you today to let you know of an exciting opportunity for Trout Unlimited members in the Pullman-Moscow, Lewiston-Clarkston region to form a unique cross border chapter of Trout Unlimited. We will hold an organizational meeting January 23, 2016 at the 1912 Center in Moscow, ID from 6-9 p.m.

Our chapter would have about 140 local members to begin with. I hope you can join us at this event so that we can begin finding out what you are most interested in as a conservationist and angler.

As you know, Trout Unlimited’s mission is to conserve, protect and restore North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds and TU’s vision is that by the next generation, Trout Unlimited will ensure that robust populations of native and wild coldwater fish once again thrive within their North American range, so that our children can enjoy healthy fisheries in their home waters.

I have recently moved to the area from McCall where I was a member of the Reed Gillespie Chapter. I contacted the Idaho Council in April, when I knew I would be moving to the area to see about getting involved in a local chapter. However, there isn’t a local chapter of Trout Unlimited in the immediate area. I volunteered to help establish a chapter because I have done that before in Missouri and it just so happens that both Idaho and Washington have been contemplating establishing a special cross border chapter in the area.

I can’t think of a more important area in the country to add another strong voice for coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. I am excited about the opportunities and challenges such a chapter in this region can begin to take advantage of and tackle. This chapter will not wont for projects. Work to improve the lower Snake, Salmon, Clearwater, Grande Ronde, Lochsa, Selway, and Palouse rivers and their watersheds abound with opportunities. The list of trout and salmon that we most assuredly will help along the way is great! And last but not least, we can begin with the conservation, fishing and fly tying expertise and ideas of 140 Trout Unlimited members who now will have a local chapter to participate in. Before I get ahead of myself, we must first meet and decide to organize a local chapter, choose a name, vote on chapter by-laws, elect leadership and other things necessary for the formation of a chapter.

I will be sending out a letter to all 140 members in a few weeks, but there are a few things you can do right now that will help us pull off a successful organizational meeting for our chapter. You can begin thinking about what you want out of a local chapter of Trout Unlimited. You can share with me your willingness to take on a leadership position within this new chapter. You can let me know if you believe you will make this meeting. And you can start thinking of names we can call this new chapter of Trout Unlimited and send them to me, so that I can have a list of possibilities available for us to vote on at our organizational meeting. I’ve thought of a few already such as Lower Snake River chapter of TU, Lewis and Clark Valley chapter of TU, Heart of the Monster chapter of TU and the Clearwater/Snake chapter of TU. You may come up with a far better name, please send your ideas to me.

Please feel free to contact me by email at this point, my contact information is below.


Michael Wells
(208) 315-3406

New Fish Handling Recommendations In Idaho Regs

Hello My FSHN Friends!

I picked up a copy of the 2016 Idaho Fishing Regs this weekend and was very pleased to see a new call out in the Steelhead section titled “Prepare To Release!” (attached). Although this is isn’t a regulation to enforce keeping wild steelhead and salmon in the river I believe it is a very good step to educating anglers on proper handling of steelhead and salmon.

Another important outcome of our work is that ID F&G is planning to investigate the issue further by doing an observation study of salmon and steelhead anglers and time-out-of-water which will help them determine if additional regulations are needed.

I very much appreciate and respect the cooperative and collaborative efforts to put this together with our local fishing organizations and the folks at ID F&G. Thanks again for your time and effort. I enjoyed meeting and working with you.

Troy Pearse
Boise, ID

2015 Ten Trout Tales and Salmon Stories

Here is the 7th Annual Idaho Trout Unlimited’s ten trout tales, or stories affecting trout, salmon and steelhead and their watersheds in Idaho.   You can find the previous top ten here for 201420132012, 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. Warm water temperatures and low flows were bad for returning Snake River Sockeye Salmon where an estimated 90 percent of the run died before reaching Ice Harbor Dam.  Also, the temperature spikes in streams led to fishing closures in locations in Washington, Oregon and Montana, but escaped Idaho due to the higher elevations

<em>One of the maps from the climate shield research paper.</em>
One of the maps from the climate shield research paper.

2. Idaho could well be the “climate shield” for some wild trout and salmon species in the coming decades as water temperatures increase.  A research paper (.pdf) from Forest Service scientists outlined their mapping efforts, first reported in March, and then again in November in a presentation to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.  A late December series of articles on climate change and potential effects on the Gem State were published by daily newspapers in the state, including an Eric Barker story “Climate Change: Idaho could be haven for native fish” first published in the Lewiston Morning Tribune and on December 30 the front page of the Idaho Statesman.

3. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff recommended against the Bear River Narrows hydroelectric project in and Environmental Impact Statement released in October 2015.  will not go away.  Opposition to this project, that includes a large cross section of society, is still organized yet this project is one of those that refuses to go away.

<em>Bull trout. Photo courtesy National Park Service.</em>
Bull trout. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

4. The US Fish and Wildlife Service released its Bull trout recovery plan in September 2015.  Since the listing of Bull trout in 1998 there had been earlier attempts by FWS to develop recovery plans which were never completed until this plan.  Some conservation groups immediately said they would sue FWS claiming that the plan falls short of recovering bull trout.  And no more than a week later the notice of intent to sue was in the newspapers.

5. A February 16 sportsmen rally supporting public lands in Idaho included many anglers who pointed to the Federal lands as essential to Idaho’s fish and wildlife habitat.   After two years of Idaho Legislature meetings and hearings, one statement in the interim committee final report came through:

In the Committee’s numerous meetings and hearings around the State, it heard consistent support for continued public access to public lands regardless of their management by the federal government or the State. The Committee found little support for the sale of any federal lands to private entities after being transferred to the State except where limited sales or exchanges might consolidate retained lands.

Perhaps the tide has begun to turn against the talk about the state trying to takeover the Federal lands.  Legislation to join Utah in a compact to take over Federal lands was rejected.  A concurrent resolution passed which supports working with the Federal land management agencies under the Good Neighbor Authority enacted by US Congress in 2014.

<em>Sportsmen rally for public lands at the Idaho Statehouse.</em>
Sportsmen rally for public lands at the Idaho Statehouse.

6. Steelhead are in the Potlatch River, and Idaho Fish and Game is working with many agencies and others as watershed restoration efforts continue with this little-known population.  The Potlatch River is not one that comes to mind for harboring steelhead habitat, or as a quality fishery, but the history of steelhead using the watershed for spawning and rearing habitat inspired the many agencies to engage, and according to IDFG monitoring they are getting some results.

7. The new Wilderness designations for the Boulder White Clouds country comes after some forty years of efforts to protect the Castle Peak area first achieved in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area Act of 1972.  Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson finally succeeded in his efforts to achieve a Wilderness protection statute for some 300,000 acres of Forest Service and BLM lands.

<em>New diversion on Diamond Creek</em>
New diversion on Diamond Creek

8. Yellowstone cutthroat trout in the upper Blackfoot River are getting additional help in population recovery thanks to a USDA grant to help pay for upgrades to two existing irrigation diversions.  The work is part of the Upper Blackfoot confluence, a group that includes includes Agrium-NuWest, Idaho Conservation League, J.R. Simplot Company, Monsanto, and Trout Unlimited. “We are beginning a new chapter in conservation history with the rollout of the successful Regional Conservation Partnership Program grant applications here in Idaho,” said TU’s Matt Woodard. “Trout Unlimited looks forward to rolling up our sleeves and working with farmers and ranchers on conservation efforts to restore native Yellowstone Cutthroat trout in the Upper Blackfoot River Watershed.”

9.  The power of volunteers is demonstrated at Twin Lakes in northern Idaho where the Twin Lakes Improvement Association has organized a multi-year effort to reduce soil and stream bank erosion on the Fish Creek tributary to the Twin Lakes.   The Coeur d’Alene Press reported in August 2015 that the, “The Fish Creek project on the Easterday Ranch has been a collaboration between the all-volunteer TLIA, property owners, concerned citizens, recreational users, ranchers, foresters and local and state agencies the past three years.”

10. Partnerships in the Upper Salmon River basin in central Idaho have been ongoing since the 1992 formation of the Lemhi Model Watershed Project during the Governor Cecil Andrus administration in response to several salmon species were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.  Over the years landowners, conservation interests and agencies found a way to work together to get things done on the ground.  The year 2015 marks the time that one of the leading landowners involved in the collaborative conservation efforts began serving in the Idaho Legislature. Merrill Beyeler took office as a State Representative in District 8, a vast, sprawling district across central Idaho.  His partnership work at his ranch is profiled in the video below.