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Wednesday, March 10, 2004


Funds aid fish habitat

$46,500 goes to 5 Idaho projects

"The Falls Creek project is the first in a series of restoration efforts to reconnect tributary habitats to the main stem (of the Pahsimeroi River). As such, it is of crucial importance to fish seeking out pristine spawning and rearing habitats."

TROY TVRDY, Idaho Trout Unlimited Council chairman

Express Staff Writer

Trout Unlimited, a national conservation organization, awarded five grants totaling $46,500 lastweek to bolster habitat restoration work on three Idaho rivers.

Trout Unlimited, in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management and Pahsimeroi Valley ranchers, is working on Falls Creek to reconnect it to the Pahsimeroi River. Long cut off by irrigation diversions, an isolated population of bull trout in the creek’s headwaters is unable to reach the river, and spawning chinook salmon can not run up the tributary. Both fish are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. Express photo by Ken Retallic

The organization awarded a $10,000 grant to its Idaho Council to fund ongoing restoration work on the Pahsimeroi River near Challis, a $9,500 grant to its Southesast Idaho Chapter for work on the Thomas Fork of the Bear River near the Wyoming border, and a $10,000 grant to its Idaho Panhandle Chapter for work on Brett Creek, a tributary of the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River.

Two more grants, totaling $17,000, will benefit habitat on Eastern Idaho streams.

The Pahsimeroi, a major tributary of the upper Salmon River, hosts several fragile fish populations, including steelhead, Chinook salmon and bull trout. Historically, the fish were abundant, but today irrigation diversions remove most of the water from the Pahsimeroi’s tributaries, isolating some species and eliminating access to spawning grounds for others.

The $10,000 grant on the Pahsimeroi will support a project initiated in 2003 to reconnect Falls Creek to the Pahsimeroi. As part of a coalition of partners that includes several federal agencies and local landowners, Trout Unlimited volunteers will work to improve irrigation systems and rebuild the historic stream channel to return consistent flows to Falls Creek.

"The Falls Creek project is the first in a series of restoration efforts to reconnect tributary habitats to the main stem," said Troy Tvrdy, Idaho Trout Unlimited Council chairman. "As such, it is of crucial importance to fish seeking out pristine spawning and rearing habitats."

The three grants were offered under Trout Unlimited’s Embrace-A-Stream program, which will provide approximately $200,000 for 38 projects throughout the U.S. in 2004.

"Our grassroots members are the heart and soul of Trout Unlimited," said Chris Wood, the organization’s vice president for conservation programs. "Embrace-A-Stream grants help them to protect and conserve our precious cold water resources."

On the Thomas Fork of the Bear River, the $9,500 grant will be used to help boost populations of Bonneville cutthroat trout, a native fish that now occupies less than 5 percent of its historic range.

Adult Bonneville cutthroat trout migrate up the Thomas Fork to spawn, but researchers have found that as many as 50 percent of the fish are killed in irrigation ditches as they attempt to swim back down the river, according to Trout Unlimited.

The grant will fund construction of a fish screen and bypass facility at an irrigation ditch near the Wyoming border to help reduce risks to the species.

"The Thomas Fork supports the most genetically pure populations of Bonneville cutthroats," said David Whitworth, president of the group’s Southeast Idaho Chapter. "This drainage, together with the neighboring Smith’s Fork and sections of the Bear River, comprise the last connected large river habitat available to them."

In Northern Idaho, Trout Unlimited has its sights set on a project on Brett Creek that will help restore habitat for westslope cutthroat trout. According to Trout Unlimited, westslope cutthroats in Brett Creek are particularly vulnerable because many trees and logs, which create pools and provide protection from inclement weather, have been removed from the stream corridor during years of logging activity.

"The use of large woody debris in the lower three quarters of a mile of Brett Creek will also better connect the channel with the North Fork Coeur d’Alene River, said Paul Koch, president of the Panhandle Chapter. "This will result in a better watershed for all forms of life."

In Eastern Idaho, the organization’s Teton Valley and Snake River Cutthroats chapters are getting money to reinvigorate Garden Creek, a tributary to the South Fork of the Snake River, and to work on the Fish Creek Springs Restoration Project, which is designed to enhance Yellowstone cutthroat trout populations in the upper Teton watershed.

Collectively, the two projects will receive $17,000.


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