By DAYNA GROSS
As the manager of Silver Creek, I have never known a person to visit the preserve and not be overwhelmed by its beauty and uniqueness. This spectacular landscape is what brought The Nature Conservancy to Idaho. With the local community, we have worked for more than 36 years to safeguard the health and character of Silver Creek and ensure it will be preserved for future generations.
For those years, the Silver Creek Preserve has been open to the public free of charge, providing thousands of visitors and countless school children the opportunity to cast to some of the best dry-fly water in the world, learn about butterflies and mayflies or simply watch great blue herons. It is with our extended first-hand experience, intense attachment to, appreciation of and understanding of the importance of Silver Creek to the community that we have proposed a major restoration project. We do not do so lightly.
We and public agencies have conducted numerous ecological assessments of the creek over many years. Consistently the research identified rising water temperatures as a significant danger to the health of Silver Creek. And based on the best scientific data available, we believe the current sediment loads and resulting high temperatures pose serious immediate and long-term threats to water quality and the well-being of the fish, animals, and plants that depend on this dynamic habitat. These risks will be amplified if current trends in precipitation and higher weather temperatures continue.
For this reason, The Nature Conservancy with the Purdy family (who share ownership of the “Kilpatrick” pond) have proposed a restoration plan that will enhance the habitat and reduce the impacts of warming temperature and sediments, most of which are hurting the miles of Silver Creek below the pond. The improvements will increase vegetative cover, create a more diverse stream channel, stabilize and utilize existing sediments by creating islands or wetlands with it, reduce temperatures through the pond by reducing the surface area, and enhance wetland and riparian habitats.
We understand the importance of Silver Creek to our entire community and would like to address some of the concerns around this project from anglers who fish the pond. First, the restoration will not increase flow rates substantially. Velocity increases will not be noticeable and float tubing will not only be manageable, it will be better because of the increased diversity in habitat. Second, in addition to maintaining current float tube access, there will be new access points developed on TNC property, including a new handicap accessible point on the preserve. Access is not changing on the Purdy property and float tubers will be able to return upstream as the banks will be sloped for wading.
Understanding the importance of Silver Creek to the community, we have held public, small group, and one-on-one meetings with the people who use the pond most frequently. Input from all of these parties has been incorporated into our plans without compromising the ecological integrity of the restoration. The design, completed by two prominent engineering firms, has also been peer-reviewed by several agencies and other nonprofit conservation groups including Trout Unlimited, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the USGS, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service.
Before, during and after the restoration project we will be conducting extensive monitoring. Some people expressed concern that the restoration construction will harm insect populations. In order to monitor changes such as insect diversity, we will work with the USGS on an insect study to track the insect populations before and after the project. In the last 10 years, we have seen a decline of small mayflies downstream of the pond, probably due to an increase in water temperatures. There will be disturbance for a year or two during and just after construction.
We believe strongly that this project is critical for the protection of this world-class trout stream and safeguarding the health and habitat diversity of Silver Creek. In the warm sun, water temperatures rise dramatically, especially in that shallow pond. This can be detrimental to fish and insects that do not reproduce or grow well when stressed. With an increase in water use in the valley, the possibility of drought and the potential effects of climate change, we need to act now to ensure Silver Creek remains a world-class spring creek and fishery.
Insects, birds, fish and people will all benefit from this project. Ensuring Silver Creek is resilient long into the future is a responsibility that we take seriously. We know change can be hard, but this is an important and necessary change that