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How An Unlikely Partnership Is Working To Bring Back A Native Idaho Trout

by Frankie Barnhill

One of the Upper Blackfoot River tributaries where updated irrigation equipment is helping Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout bounce back. MATT WOODARD / TROUT UNLIMITED

A unique group of conservationists, ranchers and miners was recently awarded a $430,000 federal grant to continue rehabilitation of a native Idaho trout. 

The project began in 2011, when the Yellowstone cutthroat trout was in decline on the Upper Blackfoot River in southeast Idaho. The native fish were getting caught in shallow ditches created by old irrigation systems used by area ranchers. The land sat on two tributaries of the Upper Blackfoot.

That's when the unlikely group got together to try and figure out how to solve the problem. Three phosphate mining companies -- including Monsanto and Simplot -- came together to help fund the Upper Blackfoot Confluence (UBC), an umbrella group that includes two environmental nonprofits.

Matt Woodard is with Trout Unlimited, one of the conservation groups in the partnership.

"We took a somewhat adversarial relationship and turned it into something that is a working relationship," says Woodard.

Woodard says the UBC has begun bringing back the Yellowstone cutthroat trout in the area. He's working with ranchers to update their irrigation equipment, which saves them time and money in the long-run. It has has helped improve trout habitat. So far they have been able to open up 25 miles of new cutthroat spawning habitat on private property.

"We've come a long way in a very short time," Woodard says. "We're able to gather up certain large amounts of match money that we can marry up with other federal and state programs to really move at a rather accelerated pace on our restoration projects in the Blackfoot."

The mining companies have also gotten something out of the bargain: positive PR. Woodard says restoring habitat for these trout is crucial, and there's a lot more work to be done.

"There are not many places where this condition exists, where we've got all these three life history patterns of Yellowstone cutthroat trout all in one place. It's also one of the last stronghold areas here in the West for [the fish]."

The group's newest project will use the federal dollars to do similar work with two more ranches on the Upper Blackfoot, potentially saving even more Yellowstone cutthroat trout in the process.

Originally published by Boise State Public Radio

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