Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Silver Creek enhancement plan released

Projects could improve ecology, fishing


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Birds gather on Silver Creek, in southern Blaine County near Picabo. Photo by David N. Seelig

Silver Creek Preserve could soon have deeper, narrower streams and even better fishing due to a recently released enhancement plan.

The plan for the nature preserve in southern Blaine County was developed with public input by The Nature Conservancy and the Ecosystem Sciences Foundation, a Boise-based environmental consulting firm. It is intended to help reduce sediment buildup and ameliorate the effects of overgrazing, restoring the health of the riparian area and improving fishing.

The plan is a more specific version of one released in June, said Silver Creek Preserve Manager Dayna Gross.

"They've pinpointed some major areas," she said, including Loving Creek and Kilpatrick Pond north of U.S. Highway 20.

According to the report, both Loving Creek and Kilpatrick Pond have major sediment deposits. The plan calls for forming an island of sediment in the middle of the pond and planting riparian shrubs and other vegetation along the pond's banks.

Sediment buildup acts as a heat sink, trapping warmth and transferring it to the steam. Grazing reduces the amount of trees and other plants around the stream, exposing the water to the sun and further increasing temperatures. And the hotter the water, the fewer fish can thrive in the stream.

Gross said The Nature Conservancy is working on the Kilpatrick Pond project with the Purdy family, which owns the land. Silver Creek Preserve is made up of 883 acres owned by The Nature Conservancy and more than 9,500 acres of easements on private property.

She said the enhancement plan is more of a roadmap than a mandate.

"It's just a recommendation," she said. "It's a way for people to get started if they are interested."

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The plan is arranged in three tiers, with lower-impact, high-priority items in the first tier and other, more intensive items coming further down the list. Gross said the items in the top tier were given precedence either due to the severity of the issues or the ease with which improvements can be made.

"Some of the top ones reached top priority because you get more bang for your buck," she said.

One such effort is increasing the quality of riparian buffers, which are "no man's land" areas of 100 feet around streams and waterways where cattle are not allowed to graze. While riparian buffers may have grasses surrounding the streams, Gross said that planting shrubs and trees in the buffers can lower stream temperatures and greatly improve stream health with relatively low costs.

"It's really simple to do," she said. "You can do it for very little expense and it benefits the stream the most."

Gross said she was assisting in an application for county Land, Water and Wildlife Levy funding for the Kilpatrick Pond project. The conservancy is also receiving a grant from MillerCoors brewing company, which has contracts with local barley farmers. The company awards grants for improving water quality in areas where it contracts with growers to help ensure that the water the farmers use is clean and healthy, Gross said.

"It's a really unique area, and they want to make sure it stays that way," she said.

Gross said the conservancy will begin work on Loving Creek this spring and fall, and will also concentrate on Stocker Creek and Patton Creek projects throughout the next year.

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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