HIGHLIGHTS OF 2020
2020 was a standout year for the Upper Blackfoot River. The spawning run of mature cutthroat reached levels not seen for over a decade, an ambitious multi-year restoration effort at the Blackfoot River Wildlife Management Area took a major step forward, and a key project in the headwaters reached a successful conclusion.
Spawning Cutthroat Run Rebounds
Idaho Department of Fish and Game Fishery Technicians Nate Heiner and Austin Young prepare to measure and tag migrating Yellowstone cutthroat trout at the fish trap on the Upper Blackfoot River.
Last spring, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game counted more than 1,300 mature trout trapped at a weir upstream of Blackfoot Reservoir, marking the second highest total since 2001. The count had dipped to under 20 fish in the drought years of 2005 and 2006.
Every April, large trout begin migrating upstream to spawn in the headwater streams of the Blackfoot River after spending 2-4 years in the highly productive waters of Blackfoot Reservoir. Because each mature female trout carries roughly 1,500 eggs, the annual migration is a major driver of fish abundance in the Upper Blackfoot, a historic cutthroat stronghold. Idaho State Journal Reporter John O’Connell filed an insightful story about the 2020 run and UBC. See ISJ Article
Fish and Game Completes Two Miles of River Restoration at the Blackfoot River Wildlife Management Area.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s ambitious, multi-year restoration project wrapped up its first full season of work by mid-October. The pace and the sophistication of the work, led by Arnie Brimmer and Jason Beck of IDFG and performed by contractor AquaTerra, were impressive. Large trees are now anchored along the river’s banks, and new riffles and pools constructed. These new features provide habitat for fish and will catch sediment to eventually produce a narrower, deeper, more complex river channel. A UBC tour in late October found that the river was already responding to the improvements, including a higher water table and new off-stream pond.
Chippy Creek Project Wraps Up
This project, managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Trout Unlimited, started with replacing old culvert crossing on the Lanes Cutoff Road, which provided fish passage and reduced erosion. The focus then shifted to restoring Chippy Creek, a cutthroat spawning and juvenile rearing stream. In 2020, the project leads were able to wrap up the Chippy Creek work, and even managed to expand the project area further upstream with some well-timed match funding from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. In the end, the project area included almost two full miles of streambank and channel work (4,950 ft.), in addition to the new box culvert and floodplain overflow culvert.
Bureau of Land Management Videographer Documents UBC’s Collaborative Work
Hannah Cain, a communications specialist with the BLM’s State Office in Boise, completed two video shoots in the Upper Blackfoot and captured the breadth and vitality of the UBC’s collaborative work. Cain demonstrated a quick gasp of a complicated subject and handled multiple interviews with skill. Her video will be posted here early in 2021.
Lori Lusty, JR Simplot Co., Blackfoot River above the Narrows
Dan Keetch, Bear Lake Grazing Co., near the Lanes-Diamond confluence
Warren Colyer, Trout Unlimited, at Sheep Creek
Kent Allen, farmer, on his ground below the Narrows
Sheep Creek Fence Completed
This IDFG project sets up the opportunity to restore the lower part of Sheep Creek, east of the Lanes Creek Road, in cooperation with Bear Lake Grazing Company. The restoration of Sheep Creek above (west) of the road was completed a few years ago contributed to a dramatic increase in Yellowstone cutthroat spawning in this key tributary of Lanes Creek.
Diamond Creek Road Re-Aligned to Protect Floodplain
The U.S. Forest Service, in cooperation with the Caribou County and Lower Valley Energy, relocated about 500 yards of the heavily used Diamond Creek Road out of the flood plain and onto an upland route. The old road was subject to annual flooding and contributed sediment to Diamond Creek.
Photo of new road construction in progress, with old road visible through the trees on the left.