A hover of trout found a new spawning home thanks to an unlikely partnership of three mining companies and two conservation groups in Southeast Idaho.
The Upper Blackfoot Confluence (UBC) is a coalition of Simplot, Monsanto, Nutrien, Trout Unlimited and the Idaho Conservation League.
The Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout are a threatened species according to various state and federal wildlife agencies. In the past years, numbers of the trout in the Upper Blackfoot River diminished to around only 20 fish, partly due to an influx of pelicans in the area, which are one of the trout’s main predators. The trout are also a popular fish to catch in the Blackfoot River.
“We have that recreational component, people want to come catch cutthroat trout. But we also have a native fish responsibility to ensure that these Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout persist through time,” said David Teuscher of Idaho Fish and Game.
The UBC is working with the Caribou Cattle Company and other partners to restore a more productive spawning area for the trout.
“It increases the production dramatically of the fry going downhill if they can spawn here,” said Troy Browning from the Caribou Cattle Company.
The Upper Lane Creek tributary flows directly into the Upper Blackfoot River where the trout will migrate back to when they’re done spawning, but not without specialized monitoring tags.
“We have these monitoring locations where it’s kind of like a scanner at the grocery store–they scan your item and it tells you how much it costs. Well these tags, when they swim by one of those scanners, it’s recorded what time of day, what day they went by,” said Teuscher.
Through monitoring the trout, the UBC can tell how many survive predation periods, how many spawn, and how many migrate back to their new spawning habitat.
“By bringing projects like this alive, we hope to bring the fish numbers back so that people can enjoy them,” said Matt Woodard from Trout Unlimited.
The project began in 2013 and took a lot of work to restore the 3 and 1/2 mile spawning site.
“We re-meandered the creek in some places, re-elevated the creek over 3 and 1/2 feet in places, did a lot of willow plantings up through here, restabilized the creek and then we fenced the livestock off from the creek,” said Woodard.
According to the UBC website, part of the problem with this creek was the damage caused by historic grazing and agriculture use. Woodard says cattle grazing can cause extensive damage to rangeland ecosystems but can be minimized by adding off-channel watering facilities for cattle to drink from instead of creeks. Ranchers can also move their cattle more often so the grass doesn’t get eaten down too low.