Removing the Red Ives Dam by Fire

Removal of the Red Ives Dam has been anticipated for over 20 years! And the dam wasn’t giving up easy even when it came down to its final days.  A fire had compromised the major access road to the forest, and it was headed in the direction of the major other access road.  This situation led the Forest to close the area in which the dam was located to public access and management of the area was temporally handed over to a Type 1 fire team.  Getting permission into the site seemed unlikely, but it was thankfully granted to the team and the weather cooperated to allow for removal of the Red Ives Dam.

Trout Unlimited partnered with the St. Joe Rangers Station of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest to remove the Red Ives Dam this August using funds supplied by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Forest Service, Idaho Conservation League, Resources Legacy Fund, and the Coeur d’Alene Basin Restoration Partnership.  The Red Ives Dam was built in the 1930s to provide power to the nearby ranger station until the mid 1980s.  This project was the first project to hit the ground as a partnership between the Idaho Panhandle National Forest and Trout Unlimited.

The hammering begins!

Even though the fire was compromising the access into the forest, the project area was not in immediate threat and the skies were clearer and the temperatures cooler than anywhere outside the Forest.  Between the remote forest setting with none of the typical August crowds and the lack of traffic to manage, the project setting was idyllic. Our only visitors were the local marten, beavers, and the occasional firefighter completing their rounds.

Looking down at where the dam once stood.

The dam proved to be of hardy construction representative of the times it was built.  Far more concrete and rebar than the partners anticipated, but once the contractors solidified their method for hammering, the Red Ives Dam days were quickly done. Once all remnants of the dam were removed, the channel was regraded with a couple pools and a debris jam to provide cover for the native westslope cutthroat and bull trout.  Red Ives Creek is one of the last remaining streams in which bull trout spawn, removal of the dam has opened the pathway to more habitat for the fish and for future phases of restoration on the waterway.

  

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Take out the lower four

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2020’s Top-Ten Idaho Trout & Salmon Stories

Here are some of the key events, accomplishments and forces affecting Idaho’s trout, salmon and steelhead resource in 2020. Every year Idaho Trout Unlimited compiles the top ten stories affecting trout, salmon and steelhead in the Gem State.  For previous years top ten check out years 2019, 201820172016201520142013201220112010 and 2009.

1.     Are we making progress on restoring the salmon and steelhead to Idaho’s waters? There are indications that hint at positive movement. Included is the Columbia River Partnership issuing its report in October with an overarching message of urgency that immediate action is needed to address salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin. Also the Idaho Salmon Workgroup ends 2020 issuing a final report

These examples are balanced by the familiar: the Federal dam and hydropower agencies completed their Columbia River System Operations Environmental Impact Study (EIS) and decided on an alternative to not do anything serious about the dams which are the biggest problem for salmon survival. TheFeds choice of  status quo management is analogous to a salmon’s strong homing instinct. And Bonneville Power Administration reverted to form hiring consultant to produce a report arguing that salmon and steelhead from rivers without dams have also experienced declines (it has been debunked https://www.fpc.org/documents/memos/53-20.pdf), implying the dams should not be blamed.

2.     Blackfoot River and Reservoir in Southeast Idaho – and the watershed surrounding it – are home to a restoration success story. Since 2011, TU has been working together with the Idaho Conservation League and three phosphate mining companies to reconnect and restore habitat and reduce avian predation to rebuild what was once a robust adfluvial (i.e. lake-migratory) Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout (YCT) population. This year saw the best spawning return numbers in nearly 20 years. More than 1,500 large adult spawners were counted as they made their way from the lake into upstream spawning habitat in the Blackfoot River. As recently as 2006, that number had dipped to fewer than 20 fish. To date, the phosphate companies have contributed almost $2 million dollars to YCT conservation projects in the watershed – money that TU has matched nearly 1:1 with federal and state grant funding. All the hard work appears to be paying off. The person responsible for most of that hard work was Matt Woodard, TU’s longest-tenured western Project Manager. Earlier this year Matt rode off into the sunset of retirement having reconnected and restored over 100 miles of stream for native cutthroat trout in both the Blackfoot and the South Fork Snake rivers. Now Matt is the President of the Snake River Cutthroats Chapter based in Idaho Falls.

3.     It seemed more crowded on the stream this year. And here is some evidence. Fishing and hunting license sales in Idaho are up compared to 2019. Through October, last year’s sales totaled 640,000 and this year, to date, is 62,000 higher, a nearly  ten percent increase. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spotlight outdoor recreation as one of the few healthiest, safest options for activity, hunting and fishing pursuits have increased.   

4.     The Lemhi River watershed celebrates nearly 30 years of sustained progress in habitat improvement thanks to cooperative actions of ranchers, government agencies and other organizations. Initiated during the Administration of Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus, a variety of projects have been implemented and is captured in this new video from the Life on the Range series of the Idaho Rangeland Conservation Commission. https://youtu.be/UldrtOnp1n4

As part of the suite of projects in 2020 the River of No Return Chapter of Trout Unlimited completed a project at Indian springs and also installed signs at locations in the valley touting the importance of salmon,steelhead and habitat work across the valley. Trout Unlimited is also restoring habitat complexity along 1.6 miles of Hayden Creek, rebuilding the lower 0.7 miles of Canyon Creek, and implementing a suite of projects to improve juvenile salmon and steelhead rearing habitat in the Lemhi River.

5.     Since 2004 TU has been working to restore and reconnect habitat in the Bear River watershed for its unique population of Bonneville Cutthroat Trout (BCT). Interestingly, Bear River BCT are more closely related genetically to Yellowstone Cutthroat than they are to their Bonneville brethren to the south! These fish are highly migratory, using main stem river and lake habitats to feed and grow, then migrating long distances into headwater tributaries to spawn every spring. As such, they depend on intact migration corridors and healthy habitat throughout the watershed.

TU’s Bear River 
Project Manager, Jim DeRito, and
 others have worked with project partners to 
install more than 25 fish screens and to remove at least that many upstream migration barriers (e.g. culverts, diversion dams) in order to restore functioning migration corridors for these fish and it’s really working. In the early 2000’s fewer than 10 percent of the BCT in Bear Lake were wild fish. Without dependable access to spawning tributaries, the Bear Lake BCT population was entirely dependent on hatchery propagation. In 2010, TU completed its first of several tributary reconnection projects, and four years later the percentage of wild fish had increased to 60 percent. These days, anglers report that roughly eight out of every 10 cutthroat caught in the lake are wild fish!

In 2020, working together with PacifiCorp’s Environmental Coordination Committee and its member organizations, TU will implement several more restoration projects on Bear River tributaries, including decommissioning a hydropower plant on Paris Creek that will restore flows and habitat to three miles of this important Bear River tributary.

6.     South Fork Snake River. Late November 2020 Idaho Fish and Game reported continued healthy populations on the South Fork Snake River. https://idfg.idaho.gov/press/high-trout-numbers-continue-south-fork-snake-river-0  The South Fork contains the largest population of native Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout of Idaho’s magnificent rivers. This is a result of inherent high productivity of the river system, effective fishing regulations that encourage the catch and release ethic, modern management of river flows in the Upper Snake River system, and in the past couple of decades a number of fish habitat restoration projects. In 2001,Trout Unlimited designated the South Fork Snake a “Home Rivers” and staff and financial resources in habitat projects. TU’s Matt Woodard focused on the South Fork Snake for many years with projects in important spawning tributaries such as Garden Creek, Rainey Creek and Pine Creek.

7.     Teton River. It is time to give the Teton River its due. And that of the many groups who have been hard at work improving the aquatic habitat of the Teton River. The Northwest Power and Conservation Council recently featured the efforts at https://www.nwcouncil.org/news/innovative-water-agreement-helping-restore-yellowstone-cutthroat-trout-teton-river noting the rebound of the fishery from its low point in 2003.

8.     Tincup Creek in Eastern Idaho, a tributary to the Snake River upstream of Palisades Reservoir, has been the site of a four-year restoration project, completed in 2020. Each year the construction crews, assisted by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest specialists, and Trout Unlimited staff and volunteers from numerous chapters in the area, to advance the restoration work. In fact, volunteers from both Idaho and Wyoming participated seeing as Tincup Creek flows from Idaho into Wyoming, meets the Snake River and flows back into Idaho. More background about the project is at this Forest Service link https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/ctnf/home/?cid=FSEPRD787009 and the Snake River Cutthroats Chapter states, “As this section of the creek stabilizes and Native cutthroat trout re-establish in natural numbers, look for it to become a destination for small stream enthusiasts.”

9.     Raising Anderson Ranch Dam and storing more water behind it was the subject of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement released this summer by the Bureau of Reclamation. The additional space created to capture and later release water into the South Fork of the Boise River could have impacts on the function of the river and the wild trout fishery that is southwest Idaho’s premiere stream. The proposal will continue in 2021 towards a decision to pursue the project with the state of Idaho that will cost upwards of $90 million to construct. Several mitigation measures were proposed by Idaho Wildlife Federation and Trout Unlimited in comments to the Bureau.

10.  The pandemic and COVID-19 and its sweeping effects on society also touched the fishing and conservation community. Conservation and education activities have been readjusted to online meetings, or in the case of youth activities such as the Trout Unlimited Trout Camp, were cancelled. Volunteer conservation in the field has been postponed or conducted so volunteers maintain physical distance to prevent spread of the SARS-CoVid2 coronavirus. Let’s hope 2021 brings a return to these important activities that help sustain the future fisheries of Idaho.

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Steelhead Need Your Help!

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First Responders Membership

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Indian Springs Stream Enhancement and Interpretive Site

Idaho’s Trout Unlimited River Of No Return Chapter (RNRTU) recently completed its collaborative, Embrace A Stream (EAS) funded Indian Springs Stream Enhancement and Interpretive Site project. 

In addition to a myriad of partners, nearby Leadore High School students participated in service learning, seeding restoration areas and harvesting willow before planting the cuttings along Indian Springs Creek.

RNRTU’s EAS project objectives: 

Increase public awareness on the effects of healthy habitat in the upper Salmon and Lemhi basins to benefit Idaho’s salmon and steelhead recovery.

Educate visitors to the area, as well as many local residents, about the incredible 850 mile journey that Idaho’s anadromous fish make to the ocean and then back to Idaho to spawn in these small tributaries. 

Emphasize the importance that healthy, unimpeded rivers are for the successful migration and return of Idaho’s anadromous fish.

Publicize Trout Unlimited’s ongoing commitment to improving habitat in the Upper Salmon Basin.

Involve community youth in a habitat restoration project.

Expand TU’s commitment to the Salmon community as a conservation partner and as a supporter of outdoor educational efforts for kids and young adults.

Outcomes and Evaluation:

RNRTU successfully collaborated with other groups including Lemhi Regional Land Trust, Upper Salmon Basin Watershed Project and the Bureau of Land Management. Together we created a series of 3 kiosk sites with educational themes throughout the Lemhi Valley. RNRTU’s project site  for  the interpretive/educational kiosk was adjacent to a riparian enhancement project that was completed by local TU staff during the same time frame. The site for this project is adjacent to a major public thoroughfare – Highway 28, in south/central Idaho. We are unable to monitor the number of visitors at this time but plan to build a sign-in or comment station on site to get feedback and visitor count. Currently, visitor numbers and feedback are word of mouth.

As a result of the stream restoration project, a small spring fed stream, Indian Springs, and an adjacent stream, Sawmill Creek, will now flow year round and will be permanently re-connected to the mainstream, Lemhi River. Adding flow to these small streams as well as to the mainstream, Lemhi River, will improve summer and winter temperatures and conditions for anadromous and resident fish. The restoration of these smaller stream improvements will provide important niche habitat for juvenile salmon and steelhead survival. This habitat enhancement is visible from the kiosk site and incorporated into the theme of the educational information on the panels.

The kiosks will increase awareness and provide educational information on the value of healthy riparian areas and their relationship to salmon and steelhead life cycles. They explain the life cycles of salmon and steelhead and their cultural significance to Native Americans. The kiosks also publicize the decades long work that Trout Unlimited and it’s partners have accomplished and their commitment toward improving habitat in the Upper Salmon Basin. The relatively remote settings of these sites make monitoring the number of visitors, length of stay, and overall impression, difficult.

Cattle were excluded from sensitive riparian areas as part of the restoration project. The 4 acre area was then seeded with native vegetation. In one year a ground cover of grasses and forbs has been well established. This native vegetation will provide habitat for multiple species of fish and wildlife. Weeds will continue to be controlled by TU staff and volunteers. Willows were planted throughout the project area. They have shown substantial growth in the first year and should continue to do so without the grazing pressure. TU staff will monitor the riparian improvement outcomes with yearly photo points. The Idaho Fish and Game department will do electroshocking to get yearly fish counts and fish species composition counts. Folks driving along the highway now observe native grasses, willows and a natural stream running through an area that was once a weedy, stomped out cattle feed lot.

RNRTU was able to engage students from the the nearby Leadore High School for participation in willow cutting and harvesting and then in the planting of those willows alone 500 feet of Indian Springs creek. They also helped with seeding the area. The assisting teachers and TU staff incorporated a biology lesson and interpretive on-site talk on salmon and steelhead habitat and life cycles.  One student used the riparian enhancement project for the theme of his senior thesis, which he presented to the TU Board of Directors. Feedback from high-school staff was very positive. Feedback from the RNRTU BOD on the high school presentation was less than positive but honest.

With the help of Matt Green, (TU’s Idaho Water and Habitat Program-Upper Salmon Project Manager) and Breann Westfall Green, (Restoration and Stewardship Co-ordinator, Lemhi Regional Land Trust) and the private and Federal landowners at each of the three kiosk sites, RNRTU was able to accomplish the objectives set out. With the involvement of the 3 other partners we created a unified approach to educating the public on four main fronts: 1) the decades long work by TU and partners that has gone in to habitat improvement, 2) the importance of the upper reaches of the Salmon River, including the Lemhi River and it’s tributaries, to the survival and health of salmon and steelhead and other native fish and wildlife species, 3) explain the steps involved in habitat restoration evidenced by the on-site project, 4) educate the public on the connectivity of Idaho’s salmon and steelhead to the ocean and therefore the importance of a healthy migratory system (Snake and Columbia Rivers). The RNRTU board feels public communication, awareness and education is essential in helping to  recovery of Idaho’s salmon and steelhead.

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The 2019 Top Ten Trout Stories

Every year Idaho Trout Unlimited compiles the top ten stories affecting trout, salmon and steelhead in the Gem State.  For previous years top ten check out years 2018, 2017, 2016201520142013201220112010 and 2009.

  1. Salmon Return to Center Stage. In April the Andrus Center for Public Policy hosted a day-long conference Energy, Salmon Community: Can we Come Together?The purpose of the conference was to revisit the long-standing salmon issue where in Idaho we have had Snake River salmon and steelhead threatened with extinction for a generation. At this meeting U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson made a keynote speech that lays out a vision to save salmon and the Bonneville Power Administration at the same time. In what was remarked as the “most significant speech by an Idaho politician in fifteen years,: Rep. Simpson discussed the financial problems faced by BPA and the need for a “Power Act 2.0” to address the salmon and BPA needs in a coordinated fashion.  He challenged the audience the “what if” the four lower Snake River dams were to be removed and how the region could make the economic and social adjustments to that type of a future, one that would help secure the future survival of the Snake River anadromous fish runs. Also at the conference Idaho Governor Brad Little announced his formation of a Salmon Working Group of Idahoans from different interests and the group has met several times in 2019 to develop Idaho-based innovative approaches to conserving the salmon runs.
  2. Anderson Ranch Reservoir proposals create uncertainties for Idaho’s blue ribbon fishery on the South Fork Boise River. Through 2019 three proposals affecting Anderson Ranch Dam and Reservoir advanced, which may affect the South Fork Boise River fishery. First, in April Idaho Department of Water Resources approved an application by Elmore County to pump water out of Anderson Ranch Reservoir into the Long Tom canal system to bring more water to the Mountain Home area. The decision was opposed by Treasure Valley based water and conservation interests and local governments. In summer the Cat Creek Energy pump storage proposal advanced with additional filings for water rights that would also include additional storage of water in the pump storage project that could be sent to downstream water users. Then the Bureau of Reclamation announced scoping of an Environmental Impact Statement for raising Anderson Ranch Dam by six feet to create additional water storage. It is unclear how these different proposals will fit together, but they all rely on capturing water flows in the South Fork Boise River that are important for spring freshet velocities that create and perpetuate trout habitat. This topic will definitely be followed in 2020.
  3. Steelhead run collapse in 2019 led to the Idaho Fish and Game Commission to close the steelhead fishing season on the Clearwater River through the end of the calendar year, with significant impacts to the river communities and guiding businesses in the area.
  4. The use of beaver dam analogues to help restore stream habitat and conserve water sees a greater widespread use across Idaho. For many years the reintroduction and transplant of beavers into some watersheds has been one method to improve habitat. More recently the method to mimic the work of beaver is being employed to jumpstart some habitat improvement in small streams. The small wood structures, usually posts and willow branches weaved between, help slow water velocities and allow water to penetrate the ground, which can act as a sponge and release waters later into the summer. See more here https://idrange.org/range-stories/southwest-idaho/beaver-dam-analogs-catching-on-in-idaho/ about this low tech and low cost method.
  5. Big steps on the Big Wood River in 2019 include a new fish ladder to reconnect Elkhorn Creek to the Big Wood River at Lane Ranch near Ketchum. This work is being completed at this writing. And the preparation for on the Bridge to Bridge project advanced and aims for ground work on the flood plain and riparian corridor in fall 2020.
  6. Lake Pend Oreille Walleye Netting: The relentless efforts of Idaho Fish and Game to suppress lake trout (which threatens the kokanee population) is working. The program is leading the recovery of kokanee in Lake Pend Oreille, but a new threat looms with a growing walleye population. Walleye were illegally introduced in the Clark Fork River, and will eat more than their fair share of kokanee and other supporting fish species unless checked. Yes, walleye are a popular sport fish, but a walley fishery in Lake Pend Oreille is not the Idaho way. Best we see these illegally-introduced fish controlled and the salmonids prevail.
  7. In January, new Governor Brad Little talks climate change. Idaho’s collaborative efforts with federal agencies, conservation groups, industries and residents have put Idaho out front in tackling tough environmental problems involving forests, rangelands, water uses and other issues, The newly sworn in Idaho governor shocked some at the Idaho Environmental Forum by declaring that climate change is real and will have to be dealt with. “Climate is changing, there’s no question about it,” he said. “Sometimes what you do from a regulatory standpoint might be counter to what the right thing to do is, but you’ve got to recognize it. It’s here. We’ve just got to figure out how we’re going to cope with it. Now, reversing it is going to be a big darn job.”
  8. Idaho Fish and Game fisheries staff are recognized for catch-and-release research by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), which recently honored IDFG with the Ernest Thompson Seton Award for the agency’s research on the effects of air exposure on caught-and-released fish. The annual award is given to a fish and wildlife agency to recognize outstanding accomplishments using science in wildlife management and effectively communicating that science to the public.
  9. As the year draws to a close a strong reminder that Barber Dam on the Boise River continues to bedevil river users as power interruptions have impacted the fishery and irrigation. Now the Ada County Commission has voted to put the dam up for auction a mere three years prior to the power license expiration where an expensive license renewal process awaits the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission process.
  10. Eight year old angling enthusiast Sophie Egizi registered a new state record catch of a 36.5 inch Gerrard rainbow trout from Lake Pend Oreille this fall. She was trolling flies from a boat on the lake, picture at https://idfg.idaho.gov/blog/2019/11/young-angler-sets-new-catchrelease-rainbow-record

Annual Environmental Conference, Cecil Andrus Center, Mike Simpson, Photo by Madison Park
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Dam removal must be part of the solution to recovering fish populations

By Eric Crawford, north Idaho field coordinator for Trout Unlimited.

As salmon and steelhead populations continue to decline, Idaho has arrived at a pivotal moment in how it will define itself for generations to come.

Last month, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission announced the closure of the Clearwater River to steelhead fishing effective Sept. 29.

This marks the first time in decades that this mighty river has been closed to steelhead anglers.

If dismal – depressingly low – fish returns aren’t a flashing red light that we have entered a critical moment, this closure should. Some experts predict that extinction of these iconic species is little more than a decade or two away, leaving no room for error or dawdling.

With only 10 percent of the 10-year average passing through Lower Granite, Idaho is on track to have one of the worst years on record for salmon and steelhead. In the 1800s an estimated 4 million salmon and steelhead populated our rivers. By the 1960s, 100,000 adults returned. In July, Idaho Fish and Game estimated only 665 wild B-run steelhead would return to Idaho.

So we find ourselves faced with two options: continue with the status quo, or come together to meet the challenge ahead.

As anglers, scientists, volunteers and advocates, Trout Unlimited is wholly committed to a future that includes fish.

We cannot fathom the alternative.

Trout Unlimited, with partners and volunteers, has put millions of dollars on the ground in Idaho restoring and reconnecting important salmon and steelhead habitat. It is our audacious vision that Idaho will once again see salmon and steelhead return en masse to its rivers, bending the rods of anglers, filling our freezers, boosting our local economies.

Making decisions based on sound science is a core principle at Trout Unlimited, and overwhelming scientific evidence has led us to support removal of the four lower Snake River dams. Science has shown that it is necessary to recover abundant, fishable and harvestable Snake River salmon and steelhead, even though it is not a silver bullet, and complementary actions will also be needed.

We understand that not everyone sees it the way we do. As members of the communities that have been and will be affected by this challenge, we recognize that all Idahoans must benefit from any solutions package. We are committed to seek solutions that work for fish and people.

Our wake-up call is here. The decision and solutions we put forth now will set the stage for years to come … maybe forever. We urge Idahoans to set their differences aside and come to the table. Collaboration takes time, creative thinking, and no small amount of patience. But ultimately it is the collaborative solutions which serve us best and last the longest.

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ID State Council Meeting Agenda, October 19, 2019 McCall, ID

8:30                 Coffee with meet and greet 

9:00                 Welcome & Introductions

9:15                 Minutes- Approval

                        Elections

9:30                 Treasury Report & Budget- Andy Brunelle

9:45                 Advocacy issues: Michael Gibson’s: TU Sportsman Conservation Project

10: 15              Break

10:40               TU’sWater and Habitat program: Warren Collier & Scott Yates                                          

11:00               Priest River project, Merrit Horsmon, IDFG: 

11:40               Potlatch EAS: Tieg Ulshmid, IDFG 

12:00               Lunch: 

1:00                 Midas Gold South Fork Salmon River:  Mary Faurot 

1:20                 EAS Grants 

1:30                 NLC Report: Chris Jones

2:00                 State Council Chair:  Updates & Feedback & Save YCT project: Ed Northen 

2:20                 Climate Change Workgroup update: Carmen Northen:

2:40                 Tools and aids for Chapters and councils, Nick Halle TU Volunteer ops, Western Region 

3:00                 Break

3:15                 Chapter Reports: Highlights of Chapter efforts: 

4:30                 Success & Challenges of Chapters: Open Discussion 

4:45                 Set date and location spring meeting 

4:55                 Adjournment

6:00                 Dinner with council members and any spouses or guest. 

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