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Signs of a Trout Comeback in a Challenging Year

                                         Upper Blackfoot River Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

                                         Trout Unlimited Photo



















                                         2022 Yellowstone cutthroat trout redds on surveyed headwater streams.

                                        Trout Unlimited Image



UBC collaborative efforts to restore Yellowstone cutthroat trout habitat throughout the watershed, including the Blackfoot River Wildlife Management Area led by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), continue to show progress and also some climate related challenges. Overall, we are celebrating signs that the trout are making a comeback across the upper basin.  


But last year’s long, hot summer posed a real challenge to trout survival. By early July, stream flows in the Upper Blackfoot River were about one-third of normal levels. Elevated water temperatures and low flows place stresses cutthroat trout, which need cold water to survive. 


In 2022, Trout Unlimited staff joined agency partners, IDFG and USFS, to conduct redd counts in Blackfoot River tributaries at the end of June. A redd is the general location selected by a female fish for laying eggs. Within that site, she may dig several nests and deposit eggs in them over a period of several days. Spawning ground surveys confirmed over 450 redds distributed among the historically important spawning tributaries in the Upper Blackfoot, including within several reaches that have undergone recent UBC-funded habitat restoration projects. 


The 2022 redd count was a surprising increase of 180% compared to the previous year, which was a long, hot summer that posed a real challenge to trout survival. By early July, stream flows in the Upper Blackfoot River were about one-third of normal levels. Elevated water temperatures and low flows place stresses cutthroat trout, which need cold water to survive. 


​The winter of 2022-23 was a record for snowfall in the Upper Blackfoot including a late spring melt. Jason Beck with IDFG captured in this video. The big runoff delayed redd count surveys into early July and we had somewhat disappointing results. Redd numbers were way down this year across all the streams that we surveyed. This is exactly the opposite from what we expected to see as high water typically creates safer migration corridors.  


Unfortunately, the trap that IDFG uses to monitor migratory fish moving into the Blackfoot River from the reservoir was not fully operational in 2022. Localized flooding along the river from the 2023 spring melt overwhelmed the trap, so we’ve had a couple of years without a good estimate of total spawner numbers. UBC is working with IDFG on potential options to improve fish counting technology. 


These variable climate conditions underscore the need to sustain UBC’s work into the future. Projects carried out by UBC and its partners build resilience for native Yellowstone cutthroat trout by providing healthy habitats and a way for fish to move within and among them. As stream flows and temperatures vary, the fish become increasingly dependent on healthy habitat refuge areas. 

UBC and Partners Win Award







                     Faith Ryan and other Society for Ranch Management Idaho Section members. 


On February 14th, at the Society for Range Management International Meeting in Boise, Idaho, the Idaho Section President Faith Ryan presented the Upper Blackfoot Confluence, Bear Lake Grazing and Jason Beck of Idaho Fish and Game, the Idaho Section Excellence in Range Management 2022 Award. 


This recognition was for their collaborative work to develop and implement a grazing exchange between Bear Lake Grazing Company and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game to improve Yellowstone cutthroat trout spawning habitat on tributaries that occur on private lands. 


The grazing exchange has resulted in improved spawning habitat conditions and increased redd (fish egg nests) numbers, all while keeping Bear Lake Grazing whole in its livestock management needs. 


The Upper Blackfoot Confluence played a critical role in the exchange by funding necessary fencing infrastructure so the exchange could be implemented and well managed. 


Congratulations to the Upper Blackfoot Confluence, Bear lake Grazing and Jason Beck for their outstanding work to create and implement on-the-ground conservation that benefits private landowners, wildlife and the citizens of Idaho!



Partners Show Support on Annual Field Tour









                   UBC field tour participants looking upstream towards Lanes Creek.

In June 2023, more than twenty participants traveled to the Upper Blackfoot to see restoration in action. Jason Beck with the IDFG led the group through the recently completed three-phase project that restored processes to the river channel through the WMA and implementation of their cooperative agreement with Bear Lake Grazing Company to rest and restore streambanks while opening new grazing areas within the WMA. The group also walked part of Sheep Creek to observe the results of a restoration project completed in 2014. 


At the close of the day, we asked participants to give us their frank comments and ideas about UBC’s work and its future direction. The group was remarkably diverse, including representatives of seven agencies, mining companies, conservation groups, landowners, and congressional offices. What we heard from them was encouraging. They appreciated the role that UBC has played in what is now a very broad-based collaboration to improve the Upper Blackfoot and urged UBC to continue to coordinate and publicize this unique collective effort. 

Blackfoot River WMA Project Enters Third Year

with Signs of Success

                                             Trees are deeply anchored into the streambank to provide cover

                                             for trout and capture sediment, which will narrow and deepen

                                             the river channel.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is leading one of the most complex and ambitious river restoration projects in Idaho on its wildlife management area along the Blackfoot River. The early results have been impressive. Constructed riffles have already created new pools and raised the water table enough to establish a new wetland. IDFG released a video on the project last summer that can be seen here.

Bureau of Land Management Video Tells

the Upper Blackfoot Story

                                       Hannah Cain interviews Lori Lusty of J.R. Simplot Co.

Hannah Cain, a communications specialist with the BLM's State Office in Boise, completed a remarkable video on the Upper Blackfoot Confluence last winter. Cain demonstrated a quick gasp of a complicated subject and handled multiple interviews with skill. The result is a highly watchable video that captures the breadth and vitality of our collaborative works.

Watch full video here


Trailer version available here

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