Local watershed partners plan for a busy year

Published in the Sanders County Ledger on February 7, 2019.

Photo: Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks fisheries biologist Jason Blakney observes past restoration project completed in 2007. Large wood structures on the left bank and fencing around streamside plantings on the right bank are visible under mid-winter snow. 

Local land managers, fish biologists, watershed workers and contractors are rolling up their sleeves in 2019 to improve the health of several area streams, including Fishtrap Creek, Crow Creek and Graves Creek.

Stream health will be improved by implementing projects identified as high priority by the Lower Clark Fork Watershed Group (LCFWG). The LCFWG is a non-profit organization, funded primarily through grant and hydropower mitigation funds, that has worked with private landowners, natural resources agencies, local government and other non-profits to develop and implement stream improvement projects in western Sanders County for the last 15 years.

Specific activities planned for 2019 include moving a road away from a stream that provides valuable fish habitat, rebuilding stream channels and floodplains to improve hydrological function, installing structures made of large wood to encourage spawning of native trout, and planting trees and shrubs along stream and river corridors.

These on-the-ground projects benefit water quality and fish habitat while putting money into the local economy. The group expects to contract out nearly $500,000 to area businesses over the next two years.

A variety of historic and ongoing disturbances affect watershed health in the Lower Clark Fork Watershed, such as dams, roadbuilding, logging, mining and wildfire. Reversing those effects through successful projects takes a diverse array of techniques and the perspectives of many partners.

LCFWG members, including local landowners and representatives from the Green Mountain Conservation District, Kootenai National Forest, Lolo National Forest, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (MFWP), Avista, NorthWestern Energy and Trout Unlimited, work to identify key projects that restore and improve the function of streams.

When possible, partners aim to address the root cause of degradation and implement long-term solutions that will increase the resiliency of watersheds and local fish and wildlife populations into the future. Whether a proposed project is pursued can depend on the scale of the project, impairments to be addressed, potential funding sources and other factors such as what species may be expected to benefit from the project.

While 2019 activities will focus on Fishtrap, Crow and Graves creeks, the LCFWG has a legacy of successful projects across the Lower Clark Fork Watershed from planting efforts along the Bull River to a series of channel and floodplain reconstruction projects in the Vermilion River.

In 2018, the LCFWG and additional partners completed the Thompson River Watershed Restoration Plan, which incorporated input from diverse stakeholders and will guide restoration efforts in the Thompson River and its tributaries for years to come.

In 2019, the LCFWG expects to complete the Lower Clark Fork Tributary Watershed Restoration Plan which will guide the group’s undertakings in tributaries to the lower Clark Fork River downstream of the Thompson Falls Dam to the Idaho border (Prospect Creek to Blue Creek). Public input to this document is welcome.

Contact LCFWG staff (info@lcfwg.org) to see how you can participate.