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The Confluence Project: 

Where North Idaho Students Get into Water! 

North Idaho is wet! Everything about living in North Idaho pretty much revolves around this fact. We ski, we boat the big lakes, we fish, and we build structures being mindful of water and its power, or we pay the consequences for not doing so. Learning about how the local hydrologic cycle works, and about the quality of our ground and surface waters is key to building understanding of how to protect this precious resource that is a rarity in the western US.  

The Confluence Project (TCP) is a University of Idaho housed, year-long water science program for high schoolers in the Coeur d’Alene region of Idaho. This program pairs scientific experts with high school students to collaborate with hands-on experience, field data collection and higher education degrees in the natural sciences. “TCP helps our teens think about how water works locally, what challenges face our waters and brainstorm ways to help surmount these challenges” according to Erin Plue, TU’s Coeur d’Alene Project Manager.  

TCP is a partnership of local entities including The University of Idaho, The Coeur d’Alene Tribe, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Panhandle Health District, Trout Unlimited and IdaH2O. Each fall several high school science teachers commit a group of students to a year of curriculum, three field excursions and a final Youth Water Summit. The field excursions focus on water quality, snow science and groundwater. The Youth Water Summit is a presentation of a cumulation of all the lessons of the past year. In the spring students design and complete a research project that is focused on trying to solve a real-world water-based problem; students design a poster and present their projects to a team of voluntary judges. Over 100 water science professionals partake in the judging event!  

Erin Plue stated that “Before I worked for TU, I helped a teacher with her classroom’s development of TCP projects. During that year, I really saw how life-changing the TCP program can be for students. The projects give students an opportunity to try to solve real-world problems. For some kids this is the first time that schooling has been applicable to real life, and that experience can be life changing!” The TCP program requires a lot of dedication and work from many local people, but this effort creates a confluence between our youth and our waters…two of the most precious of resources around. 

Written by Erin Plue, Coeur d’Alene Project Manager for Trout Unlimited based in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

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TU River of No Return Chapter Volunteers to Help Improve the Health of Hayden Creek 

Hayden Creek, located near Tendoy, Idaho is one of the most productive tributaries of the Lemhi River.  It contains up to 40% of spawning Chinook Salmon in the Lemhi River basin each year along with populations of Steelhead and Bull Trout.  Despite the high percentage of Chinook that make the journey up Hayden Creek to spawn, there are still many issues that impact native fish habitat including fast moving water without much shelter or cover for juvenile fish. 

Working with local partners and landowners, TU project manager Matt Green started construction work in the summer of 2021 to improve fish habitat by adding anchored wood structures and boulder fields.  The wood structures give fish space to hide along their journey by redirecting the stream flow to create eddies and pools that help create slower moving water.  I joined the team in the summer of 2022 and a second phase of the project was completed shortly after in August. As one of my first projects, we worked to add more embedded structures and boulder fields, along with unanchored wood in the stream and on the bank.  During future springtime high water events, the unanchored wood will move downstream and rack up on the boulder fields and structures, giving Hayden Creek the material needed to naturally maintain and enhance fish habitat.  

After construction was completed, volunteers from the TU River of No Return Chapter showed their passion for local streams and fish by battling with shovels and pickaxes in rocky soil to plant 70 native willows, alders, dogwoods, and cottonwoods near constructed structures and in areas where there was a lack of riparian vegetation.  As the trees and shrubs grow, they will provide important fish cover, shade, and help protect the streambank from erosion.  Once large enough, they will also catch woody debris as it moves downstream, creating even more habitat and stream diversity for years to come.  

 

Written by by Joe Stewart, Salmon Basin Project Manager based in Salmon, Idaho. 

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A Summary of My Time at TU  – Sydney O’Connor

Almost all young people have a grand desire to change the world. However, it becomes all too easy to become static. Unsure of the best way to act and overwhelmed with life and its responsibilities, it is no wonder that the desire to initiate widespread positive change gets pushed to the side. However, as my experience with Trout Unlimited has proved to me there are a multitude of ways, both big and small, for me to have a positive impact in my community.  

Sydney along the Boise River in Esther Simplot Park

Growing up in Montana, I was fortunate enough to spend my upbringing exploring the outdoors. Trekking through her forests, moseying through her meadows, and fishing her rivers and streams I fell in love with Montana and all the outdoors had to offer. However, as my passion for the outdoors grew, I also came to realize that I shouldn’t take anything for granted. Despite the role the environment plays in healthy living and the existence of life on Earth, it is left without a voice to advocate for itself. The environment needs voices both loud and strong to protect it from harm.  

The 5 Rivers board representing at IF4 Film Fest!

Throughout my time as an intern, I have found my voice in Trout Unlimited. Something in particular that I enjoyed learning about was how Trout Unlimited brings together diverse interests to care for and recover rivers and streams. Not only did I get to work with TU National and people working on behalf of the Idaho Water & Habitat Program, but I was also able to work with my local chapter of TU to deliver on the mission through hands-on restoration and community engagement work.  

Sydney joining in on a Ted Trueblood Board Meeting at the new Idaho Fish & Game Office in Boise.

Additionally, during the Ted Trueblood Chapter’s annual membership celebration I got to meet many people who shared my interest of caring for the recovering of rivers and streams including classmates and teachers of mine at Boise State University. As part of a collaborative effort, we were able to initiate the first Five Rivers chapter at Boise State by creating the fly fishing club. In doing so we hope to get more students outdoors and help them to develop the love for fishing and the environment which resides deep within our hearts.  

Last but certainly not least, as part of my experience, I was fortunate enough to interview a multitude of team members working both in Idaho and throughout the country. It was through my meetings with them that I was able to see how a career centered around environmental protection could be actualized. Additionally, meeting so many people that cared so deeply about the work they were conducting revealed to me that my job and my passions do not have to be mutually exclusive. Special thanks to both mentors Ashlynn Goody and Kira Finkler who helped me along my journey as an intern. It is through them, people who care, that the younger generation, including myself, is empowered to make a difference.  

Written by Sydney O’Connor, Intern (Boise State University) for the Idaho Water and Habitat Program.

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The need to breach the Lower Snake River dams: A look at 2022 fish returns

Helen Neville

After a welcome improvement in ocean conditions, Snake River salmon and steelhead run numbers are a little higher this year. The fish are fighting to survive and demonstrating their remarkable resilience. But as we’ve seen too often, dam advocates are quick to exaggerate the slight uptick in an attempt to convince the public the failing status quo is working.

We can’t allow 2022’s run counts to lull us into a false sense of security or fall for disingenuous smoke and mirrors intentionally misrepresenting important biological and legal details. For these runs, the situation remains dire, and the science-based conclusion is that the four lower Snake River dams must be removed to ensure a future for wild salmon and steelhead.

A Far Cry from Goals

The fact is that salmon and steelhead returns in the Snake River Basin over the past five years have been among the lowest ever recorded. This year, some salmon and steelhead returning to the Snake River have shown small improvement, but only when lumping wild and hatchery fish counts together, and only when compared to terrible recent seasons.

These are critically important distinctions, because it is wild fish that provide the profound ecological diversity and evolutionary adaption that allowed them to thrive throughout the basin for eons before the dams were built – and that will ensure resilience for salmon and steelhead in a future without dams.

More pragmatically, it is wild fish that determine the legal obligations for recovery, mandated under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In the Snake River, Spring/Summer Chinook, Fall Chinook, and Steelhead are ESA listed as Threatened. The basin’s Sockeye Salmon are listed as Endangered, an even more severe indication of how fragile these populations are.

Today, none of these ESA listed species are anywhere near recovery goals. In some cases, wild salmon populations are hovering around 1-3% of historical run estimates. In the past five years, wild Snake River Spring/Summer Chinook numbers averaged less than half of their total return when the fish were first listed under the ESA in 1992 – a devastating benchmark. 

Make no mistake: these are populations on the brink. In 2021, Nez Perce Tribe fishery scientists reported that 42% of Snake River wild Spring/Summer Chinook populations had reached a “Quasi Extinction Threshold,” a measurement indicating a population was hovering at risk of blinking out. The same report indicated that 19% of Snake River steelhead populations were also below this threshold. According to the study, both are expected to continue declining in the basin unless substantial interventions are made to recover these populations. 

In the meantime, billions of dollars have been spent producing hatchery salmon and steelhead to prop up fisheries, as Congressionally mandated to mitigate the population losses caused by the dams, and it is not working to recover wild fish.

Free the Snake: The Way Forward 

Many factors contribute to any given year’s salmon and steelhead returns. Poor ocean conditions, drought, predation, and habitat degradation all combine to suppress populations. But the massive dams take a tremendous toll on anadromous species in the Snake River.

Scientific analysis has repeatedly pointed toward the negative impacts of how the dams impede juvenile and adult fish migration, heat the water to deadly temperatures, inundate 140 miles of mainstem spawning and rearing habitat, and provide ideal conditions for expanding populations of predators feasting on salmon and steelhead smolts.  

This year, Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Patty Murray’s report acknowledged the need to remove the four Snake River dams to recover Snake River runs. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a capstone report reviewing the decades of deep science on the issue. It also came to the exact same conclusion, one that U.S. Congressman Simpson (R-Idaho) noted in his 2021 plan: reaching recovery goals for our salmon and steelhead requires a broad suite of actions, but restoration of the lower Snake River through dam breaching is the essential component. 

The science-based consensus is established, and the way forward is clear. Current numbers are a sharp reminder of the pressing need to restore these populations before it is too late. These species, and the communities that depend upon them, are running out of time. The four Lower Snake River Dams must be removed to save them.

Helen Neville is senior scientist for Trout Unlimited. She is based in Boise.

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Idaho State Council Meeting

Fall meeting of the Idaho State Council of Trout Unlimited

Nature Conservancy Silver Creek Preserve

Oct 22, 2022 at 8:30 AM (MDT)

Bellevue, Idaho

Draft Agenda (9-28-22) Fall Council Meeting

Nature Conservancy Silver Creek Preserve Hailey, ID

Saturday October 22, 2022
8:30 a.m. Meet for Coffee/Juice Socialize 

8:45 a.m. Welcome and Comments by Lou Lunte. TNC Manager 9:00 Introductions / Roll Call /Review Agenda 

9:15 a.m. Business Meeting Review Agenda and Handouts Discuss Contact List and Distribution Lists: Council – All, Council – Executive Committee , TU Staff Review and Approval of Spring 2022 Council Meeting Minutes Treasurer’s Report & Budget Discussion Membership Fee Remittance to chapters – amounts paid , checks distributed Election: Chair: Matt Woodard, Open Positions: VP (chair elect) secretary Date/Location for Spring 2023 Council Meeting NLC Report – 15 minutes Strategic Planning, Leadership Development & Recruitment Potential Bylaw Revisions – Update Chapter Reports (optional): follow chapter review for rechartering criteria used in 2021. Focus on most significant accomplishments &/or challenges. 

10:00 Break 

Trout Unlimited Staff Reports and Presentations 
10:15 Michael Gibson – Sportsman Conservation Issues/Legislation at 2023 Legislative Session/Camo at the Capital Training, Education, Orientation and Resources for Chapter/Council Leaders

10:45 Maggie Heuman 

12:15 Lunch 

1:00 Resume Business Meeting 

2:30 Break 

3:30 Resume Business Meeting 

4:30 Adjourn (can go until 5 o’clock if needed)

Rep. Muffy Davis checking out the new casting platform at Silver Creek with assistance from Silver Creek Outfitters guide Mark Milkovich. Trout Unlimited, among many others, was a donor to this worthy project.
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Trout Unlimited comments on Cat Creek Energy LLC’s proposed water storage project

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Internship Experience – Harrison Marshall

As I look back on my experience as an intern for Trout Unlimited, I can not help but think about how I ended up in the position to work for such an amazing organization. I grew up in San Francisco, hundreds of miles away from the pristine rivers, mountains and wilderness areas that make up Idaho. But as the grandson of a rancher in Northern California and the son of two avid outdoor sports enthusiasts, I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by a family who fostered a love for the outdoors and emphasized the importance of protecting it. Even though I was exposed to so many aspects of the outdoors, these areas that TU and other leading conservation organizations fight to conserve still seemed so far away.  

2022 Summer Interns – Left Manuel Ellenwood/Right Harrison Marshall

I moved to Idaho during the summer of 2016 and was immediately enamored with my surroundings. Living in such proximity to Silver Creek, one of the most beautiful and untouched trout fisheries in the United States, conservation and proper resource and land stewardship finally became tangible. Through skiing, hunting, angling, and working with livestock, the environmental issues that contribute most to climate change became evident in my everyday life. I had always been acutely aware of climate change, but now I got to see its impact on the place I had fallen in love with, the place I now called home. It was around this time when I made the decision to dedicate my career towards protecting these wild places, the very same places that had provided me with so much joy and happiness over the years.  

When I began my internship with Trout Unlimited towards the end of June, I genuinely did not have much of an idea of what to expect. The summer before, I had an internship with The Nature Conservancy where I performed mostly manual labor. Was this new opportunity going to follow along similar lines? I did not know what I was getting myself into. On my first day, my first task was to join a call regarding the Cat Creek Reservoir Project, a proposed hydropower and water storage project outside of Mountain Home, Idaho. TU is protesting the water rights applications associated with the project. After the call, I was given several long documents to read to familiarize myself with the project’s ins and outs. With such a steep learning curve, I quickly came to realize that Trout Unlimited had geared this internship towards learning. During the onboarding process, I had been asked which aspects of conservation I was interested in, and it became clear that my eight-week internship was tailored specifically to my interests and aspirations. In the first few weeks, I worked predominantly in environmental policy as well as writing an application for a grant that would provide TU’s Ted Trueblood Chapter, based in Boise, with more rods, reels and other angling gear to expand the youth and community outreach programs. I had already learned so much more than I thought possible and could not wait for what the rest of my time with TU would hold.  

Harrison Marshall meets members of the Ted Trueblood Chapter Board

There have been so many highlights over the course of this internship that it is hard to pick favorites. As someone who loves to learn, especially when it comes to things that are applicable to my life and career aspirations, I have found enjoyment in each day of work. If I had to choose, my favorite moments and tasks would be my work on the Cat Creek Reservoir Project, the Trout Unlimited Next Generation Gear Grant, and the several meetings with established TU staff.  

The Cat Creek Reservoir Project is the proposed construction of a new 100,000 acre-foot reservoir outside of Mountain Home, Idaho. I started my internship during the time that TU and the other protestants of the project were commenting on the Pre-Application Document (PAD) and Scoping Document 1 (SD1). These documents are essentially the outline of the project presented by Cat Creek Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), respectively. In reading through the PAD and SD1, I was able to not only achieve a firm grasp of the size, scale and specifics of the proposed project, I was able to develop such a deep understanding of what the flaws and inconsistencies were. I was tasked with synthesizing comments made by others within TU into a coherent and easily read document. This document was then used as part of TU’s official comments on the project. I had never seen my words included in a document that carried so much weight, and that experience was incredibly rewarding.  

Harrison meets with Alayne Bickell of Horses for Clean Water in Nampa, Idaho

The Ted Trueblood Chapter of Trout Unlimited did not receive the TU Next Generation Gear Grant, but the experience of writing the proposal was still a valuable one. I had the opportunity to speak with members of the board and staff to learn more about why the chapter’s youth and community outreach programs were so successful and how they could be improved. Even though we were not awarded the grant, I learned how to market the chapter, gained experience writing grant proposals, and developed relationships with people who have dedicated their lives to protecting Idaho’s fisheries.  

Among the several meetings I had with Trout Unlimited staff and individuals working for adjacent and like-minded organizations, the two that stand out are the conversations with Beverly Smith and Chris Wood. Beverly Smith, vice president for volunteer operations for TU National, talked about how she always let her passion for her work and for those that worked with her be her motivation. For years, Beverly has worked long hours with very little time off, but it does not matter to her because she genuinely cares about and believes in the work she was doing. Chris Wood, President and Chief Executive Officer of Trout Unlimited, is one of the most passionate and insightful people I have had the pleasure of speaking with. He talked about making connections and building relationships with people, not just the places we are trying to protect, in order to achieve our goals. To Beverly, Chris, and everyone else who took the time to speak with me, thank you so much.  

As I finish up the last week or so of this internship and my time with Trout Unlimited comes to a close, I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the most driven and passionate people I have ever met. The feeling is bittersweet; I am sad to be leaving but, at the same time, so thankful for the opportunities provided and the lessons learned. To Kira Finkler, Ashlynn Goody, Dan Dauwalter, Chris Wood, and everyone else who made this experience possible, thank you.  

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Internship Experience – Manuel Ellenwood

My name is Manuel Ellenwood; I’m a part of the Nez Perce Tribe and I was an intern for Trout Unlimited for eight weeks during the summer. My experience should be different from others because I worked out in Lewiston while most others worked out of the Boise office, so I worked independently. I didn’t mind having quiet time working since that’s how I’m most productive and sometimes comfortable.

Manuel Ellenwood visits Boise

What I’ve learned.

Although growing up in Lapwai and being a tribal member, I feel like I may not always know what the tribe is working on throughout the region. So, the first thing I learned through this internship came from my own tribe, which is that they would like to breach the lower four dams, the same as TU. The tribe has already taken steps in that direction; they have committed to getting solar panels to soon contribute to replacing the power that the dams provide.

Manuel’s first day on the job – touring Lower Granite Dam

My favorite part(s).

I have had tons of favorite parts during my time as an intern, but I think the most rewarding out of my day was interviewing people. It was great to see people love what they do everyday and get to talk about it. One thing for me is that I want to be passionate about my job and not have to despise going into work. I’ve gotten a great sense of my opportunities as a career talking to all of these people.

Something surprising.

Something I’ve found surprising is being able to meet and interview the president of TU. I just think TU is this huge place filled with so many diverse people and I’m a little intern from Lapwai, ID. I was definitely shocked when I was told I could interview him. Early on in my internship I watched some videos with him speaking on different topics, read some blog posts he had written and heard from others how great he is so I thought he just seemed really cool and great to meet for myself.

Manuel interviewing Idaho Water Resources Board member Jo Ann Cole-Hansen

Something I didn’t like.

Everything was great, honestly, but the one thing I didn’t like I actually had the power to change! Kira and Ashlynn, whom I reported to, were both generous enough to let me work on my own time and I chose 8-4. One thing about me is that I’m not a morning person. Luckily, they were very understanding people. They offered to let me work from home on occasion or if I woke up early enough, I could do work and then I could get off earlier. The flexibility offered in this internship made my summer plans possible

Manuel & Harrison after spending the day at the Silver Creek Preserve in Picabo, ID
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Restoring large wood in Central Idaho – a preview

  

By Ashlynn Goody and Cassi Wood 

We are thrilled to announce that The North American Journal of Fisheries Management will soon publish an article co-authored by Cassi Wood, our Central Idaho Project Manager.  Cassi and Jim Gregory, a longtime Trout Unlimited (TU) consultant, recently presented their research at the Annual Meeting of the Idaho Chapter of the American Fisheries Society.   

Cassi Wood & Jim Gregory presenting their research before the Idaho Chapter of the American Fisheries Society.

This study focuses on the Yankee Fork, a river that flows approximately 28 miles from its headwaters in the Salmon River Mountains to its confluence with the Salmon River. The study area is 7.5 miles long, beginning at the confluence with Eightmile Creek and ending at the mouth of Jordan Creek. The Yankee Fork was an easy selection for study; Cassi has been working with partners to restore the Yankee Fork from mining and timber harvest for nearly a decade. 

Unanchored pieces of large wood, placed to mimic an avalanche.

Upon visiting the Yankee Fork in my first week at TU, it’s easy to see why someone would want to dedicate ten years of work to this area. Reconstructing just one mile of the badly damaged river required removal of more than 100,000 cubic yards of dredge tailings; tall rows of piled rock which have confined more than 6 miles of the river to a flume-like channel since the Yankee Fork Gold Dredge finished mining it in 1952. For reference, your average dump truck can only haul 15 cubic yards. That’s over 6,600 dump trucks! It’s hard to imagine how large and impactful these dredge tailings are until you’re standing near one as it hovers a good 10 to 15 feet above you. If the piles of rock that stretch on for miles weren’t enough of an insult, an even larger portion of the watershed was harvested for timber right to the river’s edge to support the mining boom of the late 1800’s. Relocating the dredge piles is regrettably only a portion of the work needed to restore this area. Large wood, now missing from the upper reaches of the river, must be added back in order to create a healthy habitat for fish. Wood in the stream does more than just provide shelter over the heads of our underwater friends; it slows the water they swim in, sorts the gravel they spawn in, and feeds the insects they eat. Without large wood, rivers become sterile and inhospitable for fish.  

A bull trout using wood for cover in the Yankee Fork. 
The Bonanza Project section of the Yankee Fork. Some dredge tailings remain to the left of the re-constructed river. 

The upcoming article will share details of the authors’ research using large wood restoration techniques in the upper Yankee Fork that mimic nature. Their work contrasts with the use of highly engineered log structures, commonplace in the realm of river restoration. Those buried and anchored logs, sometimes even bolted together, are intended for places that cannot risk damage to downstream structures like bridges. But wood that cannot move in concert with the dynamics of an otherwise healthily changing stream can cause more harm than good… and cost a lot of money to construct. Cassi and her partner researchers restored wood to the stream by adding loose trees and logs to the upper Yankee Fork, where risk to downstream structures was low. The project simulated the natural processes of wood recruitment that create healthy rivers. Chiefly, from fallen timber, avalanches, and creek ‘blow-outs’. Next, they evaluated how much of the loose wood in the stream might naturally move over time.  

A map of the project area.

For the study, twenty of the added pieces of large wood were implanted with radio tags and tracked each summer for five years (2015–2019). In 2017, the Yankee Fork experienced a 25-year spring run-off event. The results of the author’s research show that in rivers like the upper Yankee Fork, unanchored large wood moves only very short distances downstream, even during very high flows. The results also show that the total amount of large wood restored to the study area did not decrease over time.  

This research was a huge success; it confirms there are streams where large wood can be restored at a lower cost and in ways that compliment natural rivers, which opens more possibilities for future restoration across the west. This work, part of the collection of restoration projects by Cassi and her partners, is yet another example of TU’s commitment towards ensuring that high quality critical habitat is ready to bring home the numbers of salmon and steelhead that Idaho deserves. 

Tracking tagged wood movement.

TU & partners working to restore large wood in the Yankee Fork.

This research was funded by the US Bureau of Reclamation, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, TU, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the US Forest Service.  TU sincerely appreciates the US Forest Service’s Helitack crew, who installed the helicopter-placed trees, and to Boyd Foster Backhoe Service, who installed the trackhoe-placed trees. Numerous technicians from the Salmon-Challis National Forest assisted with the installation of saw-cut trees, logistics, and assessment. 

We can’t wait to share the full copy of the article with you once it is published and available to the public. 

For specific questions regarding this article, please contact Cassi Wood at caselle.wood@tu.org

Ashlynn Goody is the Policy and Outreach associate for Trout Unlimited’s Idaho Water and Habitat Program.  Ashlynn works out of TU’s Boise office. Cassi Wood is a Project Manager for Trout Unlimited’s Idaho Water and Habitat Program. Cassi works in the field of Central Idaho’s beautiful landscape. 

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