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conservation & projects

Taking care of Idaho Steelhead

By | conservation & projects

By Chris Wood

The first time you snorkel a stream, the size of the bugs are disarming. Stoneflies tumbling down the stream look like aquatic dragons bent on taking off a limb. It is an optical illusion, of course.

We were way up in the South Fork of the Salmon River drainage. Hiking in neoprene wet suits in relatively warm weather is never a good idea. It is a downright bad idea when you are gaining several thousand feet in elevation.

I eased into the cold water, and lifted my head and yelled in fake fright to a Forest Service colleague when I saw the first stoneflies drifting down the stream. I eased around some dead-fall, and around a bend, and gasped. There they were. Two steelhead, tails fanning, beat-up, side-by-side.

And not just any steelhead but likely part of the fabled Idaho “B-run” steelhead that spawn primarily in the Salmon and Clearwater rivers. The B-run steelhead are Idaho’s largest, and with good reason, some climb more than 6,000 feet in elevation and traverse more than 800 miles to their natal mountain streams to spawn.

I thought about those two fish when I learned that Idaho had decided to close the steelhead fishing season in Idaho for the year (which typically starts in September and continues into May the next year). 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.

The decline of Snake River wild steelhead has been dramatic. In the early 1960s, over 100,000 wild steelhead returned to the Snake River. This year, by Nov. 15, when the vast majority of wild steelhead have already returned, only 11,719 wild steelhead had passed Lower Granite Dam. And fewer than 2,000 of those wild fish are the large B-run steelhead so highly prized by anglers.

Steelhead declines over time

Even compared to recent years the 2018 run of wild steelhead is abysmal. The 10-year average wild steelhead return exceeds 39,000.

Lower Granite is the last of the eight federal hydropower dams that span the Columbia and Snake Rivers.  It is the last impediment to the several thousand miles of habitat – much of it five-star quality—that awaits salmon and steelhead in the Snake River Basin if they can get past the dams, and too few do.

While the eight dams that Snake River wild steelhead must pass to reach their spawning grounds are not the only cause of their decline, that gauntlet takes a heavy toll. The last four dams that the fish must pass on the lower Snake River are particularly problematic. Though there is work to be done to reduce losses of Snake River wild steelhead to predators and harvesters downstream in the Columbia, as well as the need to reform hatcheries, overwhelming scientific evidence supports either removal of the four lower Snake River dams or some other way to improve survival as the most effective way to recover Snake River salmon and steelhead to healthy, fishable levels.

Releasing a wild steelhead

The state of Idaho has spent millions of dollars restoring wild steelhead and salmon habitat in the Snake River Basin. Similarly, Idaho farmers have reduced their irrigation withdrawals from the Snake to help young salmon and steelhead with their downstream migration through the predator-filled, slackwater reservoirs that sit behind each of the four Lower Snake dams. Cold water is released from Dworshak dam on the Clearwater to help cool the lethally hot water in the lower Snake River reservoirs during the summer months when adult wild steelhead and salmon return.

These measures, while certainly helpful, have not stopped the decline of Idaho’s wild steelhead and salmon.

Idahoans are incredibly proud of their wild salmon and steelhead. For 40 years they have been willing to shoulder sacrifices to ensure their return to their natal mountain streams. At some point, however, they will begin to question the benefit of the billions of taxpayer dollars that have been spent on wild steelhead and salmon without a clear path to recovery.

Let’s hope they do so soon. Time is running out for Idaho’s wild salmon and steelhead.

Chris Wood is the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited

 

Past Projects

By | conservation & projects

 

 

Upper Big Lost Project- East Fork

Hemingway TU Partner with TU’s Idaho Water Project  to harvest Grow and Plant 750 willows on the Upper Big Lost River.   This part of the Project is completed and appears to have a high survival of willows.  Small log barriers were also removed to allow Trout to migrate and return habitat back to its natural state.  This part of the project was completed in 2008.  2011 will see a fencing of the area to protect it from Cattle.

Penny Lake Fishing Platform

A fishing platform for Special needs persons and youths was built at Penny Lake on Warm Springs. This platform provides improved fishing access, and protecting the stream banks from erosion. It is rewarding to see how much this platform is used and enjoyed. This project was done in partnership with Trout Unlimited, SV Higher Ground, USFS  and Brian Poster Construction.

This platform project was completed 2009 however additional access paths and habitat improvement may be a future project.

Continuing Projects

By | conservation & projects

 Box Car Bend Clean-up & Maintenance:

Every Spring usually in May

The Hemingway Chapter of Trout Unlimited  has been partnering with The Wood River Land Trust since 2006 on this annual project. Each year we provide maintenance to the accesses and trails at Box Car Bend on the Big Wood River. 

 Participants of all ages helped  pull invasive weeds, clean trails from overgrowth and crab grass, put down wood chips on the trails and do maintenance to erosion control barriers.
A few hours of hard work are followed up by a BBQ Lunch and Snacks.    
Volunteers should bring  Clothing: Hats, Sun Glassess, and Work Gloves,
Tools to bring: Garden Rakes, Scoop Shovels, hoe, Wheel Barrel

Contact for this project is  Carmen Northen at flyfishngirl@cox

 

Fishing Access Maintenance:

One of the ongoing projects the Hemingway Chapter is involved in, is Access to the Big Wood River.  In 2011 we posted fishing regulation and access signs in English and Spanish on almost all of the Big Wood river accesses. We continue to maintain the accesses clearing them of overgrowth and making them visible.  This year we will again provide maintenance to these accesses and ensure regulation and access signs are posted.  Usually the project is done by 4 to 6 people over several days. We will be sending out notices of the dates for this project,  once we have them established. You can participate in one day or all of them.

 

 


Lake Creek Project

 

Lake Creek Lake sits in a beautiful setting and is one of the places families in the community gather to teach their children about fishing.  There is little stream habitat below the lake  which fish can hold and survive.  This project will enhance the stream to provide better habitat for trout to live in.

Volunteers and Staff from TU and the US Forest Service performed a stream enhancement project on Lake Creek this October.  The enhancement  consisted of adding large woody debris in-stream to add fish habitat and assist with stream hydraulics.  Volunteers moved log sections, secure them in-stream, and perform additional riparian enhancement work in 2014.  In 2015 phase 2, over three days   Volunteers planted a variety of stream side vegetation that will provide, shade, habitat and stream side stabilization to the habitat.  Lots of digging through rocky soils presented a challenge but the volunteers were undaunted.

Future restoration of this area may continue in the future.  We will evaluate and the impact of work completed in a few years to see if more restoration is viable.


ERC Clean Sweep

Each spring since 2017 the Hemingway chapter supports and participates with a team in the ERC “clean sweep” of the Wood River valley.  Volunteers join together and clean up the river and banks along the Big Wood River at River Run access up and down stream.   We have found and remove a chase lounge , burnt up guitar, a muffler system lots of beverage bottles and cans, road cones and general debris.  Our Team has won the best spirit award and most unusual find awards given out.  This is a fun event and accomplishes our goal of protecting our rivers.

Fish Rescue

By | conservation & projects

Every year thousands of Trout and other species of fish which live in the Big Wood River migrate into irrigation diversions and canals never to return to the river. At the end of each irrigation season when the water flows are shut off the fish become trapped and die.   There are a number of solutions to this problem of fish migrating into the diversions i.e. fish screens, but they are expensive and to this point have not been installed.

The Hemingway Chapter of TU has been working with Canal companies and Idaho Fish and Game ( IDFG) for over a decade to rescue these stranded trout and put them back into the Big Wood River. When water is about to be shut off, TU is notified by the canal companies or Water master at which point we recruit volunteers to net and transport the fish, from the canals back into the Big Wood River at the location closest to the now closed diversion point.

In order to do this the Hemingway TU Chapter applies for both fish collection and transport permits which are provided by IDFG and follow prescribed collection and transport techniques approved by IDFG. We use seine nets to collect fish from the shallow waters, put them in buckets with oxygen bubblers and then place the fish into an aerated, oxygen infused fresh water tank, where they are held until we finish the collection. Once the collection is complete we transport the fish back to the Big Wood River and put them back in.

One of the difficulties is timing. We have no way to measure how fast the water will percolate into the ground and dry up so we make our best estimate based upon years of experience. Once we get the shutoff date we have only a couple of days to coordinate volunteers , ready equipment and get to the site to rescue the trout. Recently John Wright of the Diversion 45 Canal company has been working closely with us to provide advanced notification and even maintain some small flows to allow time to rescue the fish. This has help our success rate in collection of fish.

John Finnell who designed, built and donated the fish rescue tank, has been involved with the fish rescues for years is the point person for this effort and deserves a great deal of credit for the success of this program.

This rescue is both fun and rewarding and volunteers of all ages are welcome to participate.   If you have never participated in one come out and join us. It is usually a three to four hour commitment but a person can leave whenever they need to.

If interested please contact Ed Northen, hemingwaytu@me.com mobile 949-246-9372

photo credit Nancy Whitehead

Silver Creek Restoration

By | conservation & projects

 

On October 8th,  Hemingway TU volunteers gathered at Silver Creek Preserve to partner with The Nature Conservancy  planting native plants of various sizes to help protect and restore areas of the preserve. Dayna Gross the Preserve Manager oversaw the plantings and lunch was provided for all the workers.  It was a rewarding day for all the participants.  Their will be more opportunities for planting and stream restoration in the future. Dave Spaulding, our Project chair coordinated and participated in this restoration effort.

Present Projects

By | conservation & projects

Big Wood River Below Magic

Trout Unlimited in partnership with the Wood River Land Trust have are working on a solution to the problem of maintain year round water flows on the Big Wood River below Magic Reservoir.

We had been working on a solution for over 8 years, while in good years fish survive in low water years the water is shut off in as early as July resulting in significant fish kill swith thousands of large Rainbow and brown Trout, many over 18” dying in this magnificent fishery.

We continue to work on creative solutions to obtain a permanent year round water source for this unique ecosystem and fishery.

Over the past years we have collected  water quality information on this portion of the Big Wood River in the spring, summer and fall.

We continue to be optimistic and are working with water users to try and find a win, win solution for this problem.   We will keep you updated as changes occur.

 

 


BWR Home Waters Initiative

The Big Wood river is part of TU National Home Rivers Initiative .

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.

Keri York , Big Wood River  Project Manager kyork@tu.org is the TU’s full time staff person working on the goals of the initiative and is working out of an office in Hailey.

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 .

In Febuary 2016 A Geomorphic assesment of the Big Wood River was completed and presented to the public.  This study is combined with other studies on fish populations and entomology of the Big Wood River.  Below is a definiton of what a Geomorphic assessment is about.

 

The Role of Watershed Assessments in River Restoration 

By: Dan Dauwalter, Ph.D., Trout Unlimited, Boise, Idaho 

The way a stream or river looks when you’re standing on the bank or while fishing reflects what is going on in the watershed, both on land and in tributary streams. Streams and rivers naturally transport water, sediments (coarse and fine), and organic materials (wood and leaves). As these as are transported downstream they interact with the stream channel, banks, and floodplain, and these interactions determine how the river looks in character – this look is commonly referred to as a river’s morphology. Since river morphology is influenced by its watershed, it also reflects human activities far from and adjacent to the river.

We often seek to restore rivers to ameliorate some of the problems we see in them due to human activities. Sometimes these problems are obvious like severe streambank erosion, but sometimes these problems are more subtle, such as when there are small changes in the streambed elevation due to changes in sediment supply. In the past, river restoration was often done in a haphazard fashion. That is, someone noticed an obvious problem and tried to fix it without a broader understanding what was causing the problem in the first place. Today, river restoration is often done by first by understanding the issues with a river and their cause before implementing any restoration projects. A common starting point in large-scale river restoration programs, therefore, is conducting a science-based watershed assessment.

Watershed assessments completed to aid river restoration planning typically have a strong focus on geomorphology and hydrology because of their strong influence on aquatic habitats and fisheries. One common assessment methodology is the Watershed Assessment of River Stability and Sediment Supply (WARSSS; Rosgen 2006). The WARSSS methodology is a multi-stepped process focused on identifying land use impacts to sediment imbalances and river stability. The assessment outcome is the identification of risks and consequences of altered sediment supply and river channel instability – two factors import to the natural functioning of river systems. Of course the natural functioning of river systems impact aquatic habitats, aquatic life, and ecosystem function. These connections between what is happening in the watershed, river function, aquatic habitats, and aquatic life are what drive the health of trout fisheries in rivers like the Big Wood River

 


Past Projects

Loving Creek Fish Ladder and Revegitation Project

“On Saturday, May 17th, the Hemingway Chapter of Trout Unlimited partnered with RBC Wealth Management employees, and TU staffer Chad Chorney, to re-vegetate a recent fish passage project on Loving Creek.  During the fall of 2013, a fish ladder and bypass channel were constructed on Loving Creek (tributary to Silver Creek) where a migration barrier existed, allowing for fish passage of all age-classes of trout.  The fish passage will provide access to upstream spawning and rearing habitat for adult trout, and will enable juvenile trout to migrate to nursery areas within the watershed.

TU and RBC volunteers planted approximately 600 individual native sedges, cut and planted native willows along sensitive riparian corridors, and spread native seed along disturbed upland areas.  Re-vegetation on restoration projects is critical, and these efforts can’t be accomplished without assistance from volunteers.  Thank you to the RBC employees and Hemingway chapter volunteers that helped make this project a success!’