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Signs of a Trout Comeback in a Challenging Year

Upper Blackfoot River Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Trout Unlimited Photo

2021 Yellowstone cutthroat trout redds on surveyed headwater streams. Trout Unlimited Image

2021 brought strong progress and promising results from the multi-year project to restore Yellowstone cutthroat trout habitat at the Blackfoot River Wildlife Management Area led by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG). We also celebrated signs that the trout are making a comeback across the upper basin. IDFG counted more than 1,800 cutthroats migrating from Blackfoot Reservoir to the headwater streams where they spawn. For the second year in a row the run far exceeded the fewer than 20 fish that were observed in 2005-2006. As recently as 2016, only 204 fish were observed making the migration.

Spawning ground surveys confirmed the good news. In June, Trout Unlimited and IDFG found over 250 redds (fish nests) distributed among the historically important spawning tributaries in the Upper Blackfoot, including within several reaches that have undergone recent UBC-funded habitat restoration projects.

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. Conditions were particularly hard for this year’s juvenile trout, which will emerge from their gravel bed nests in mid-summer.

These tough conditions underscore the need to sustain UBC’s work’s 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 drop and water temperatures increase, the fish become increasingly dependent on healthy habitat refuge areas where they find cool water and cover.

Itafos Joins UBC

Itafos operates mines in the Upper Blackfoot and is a contributing member of UBC.

UBC is very pleased to welcome phosphate mining company Itafos as a new UBC member. Itafos operates phosphate mines in the Upper Blackfoot and the Conda processing facility. Since acquiring Conda’s phosphate operations in early 2018, Itafos has been involved in a variety of efforts benefitting both the Upper Blackfoot River and Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Its affiliation with UBC will augment the annual funding provided for trout habitat enhancement projects. Jon Goode will represent the company on UBC’s membership group.

Partners Show Support on Annual Field Tour

UBC partners tour a restored reach of the Blackfoot River

In late September, more than three dozen participants traveled to the Upper Blackfoot to see restoration in action. Dan Keetch of the Bear Lake Grazing Company described how their cooperative agreement with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) created opportunities to rest and restore streambanks while opening new grazing areas and creating flexibility for the company’s operations. UBC funded the fencing that made that agreement possible.

The group also walked part of the mile-long Phase 2 restoration reach at the Wildlife Management Area. Carson Watkins and Jason Beck of IDFG gave us a short course in the nuts and bolts of creating excellent trout habitat in a river reach that had become wide and shallow.

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.

Diamond Creek Road Stabilization Project Complete

U.S. Forest Service image


Excavator planting live willow clumps along the realigned stream channel adjacent to Diamond Creek Road. 

Trout Unlimited photo

The Forest Service and Caribou County collaborated on a re-alignment of a 1,200 foot section of the Diamond Creek Road that was eroding into the creek or was in poor condition.  The work was completed last fall.

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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