For Immediate Release
July 14, 2021
Media Contact: Will Whelan, Facilitator
Upper Blackfoot Confluence
Partnership’s New Funding Will Boost Upper Blackfoot River Cutthroat Trout
This Year Brings Promise and Challenge for Wild Trout
(Soda Springs) The Upper Blackfoot Confluence (UBC) will fund three restoration projects in the headwaters of the Blackfoot River, a historical stronghold for native Yellowstone cutthroat trout. The announcement came as UBC celebrates new evidence that cutthroat trout of the Upper Blackfoot are rebounding. But this year’s drought and high temperatures put pressure on wild cutthroat survival and underscore the need to improve stream habitats to allow the fish to thrive in all conditions.
UBC Is a Growing Partnership Committed to the Upper Blackfoot
UBC is a voluntary partnership that has been made up of three mining companies, J.R. Simplot Company, Bayer US, and Nutrien, as well as two conservation groups, Trout Unlimited and the Idaho Conservation League. UBC’s members have joined forces to rebuild Yellowstone cutthroat trout in the river above Blackfoot Reservoir. Since UBC’s formation in 2011, the mining companies have worked through the partnership to provide more than $2 million for habitat projects.
This year, UBC welcomed a new member, Itafos, which operates phosphate mines and processing facilities near Soda Springs.
Tim Vedder, Conda General Manager for Itafos said: "Itafos is pleased to join the Upper Blackfoot Confluence (UBC) group. 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. Itafos’ affiliation with UBC is an additional positive step towards its goals of protecting the environment and wildlife native to Southeast Idaho.”
The Good News: The Cutthroat Population Is Rebounding
This spring, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) counted more than 1,800 cutthroat 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. Last week, 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.
The Bad News: Low Stream Flows and Heat Will Challenge Trout
Stream flows in the Upper Blackfoot River were about one-third of normal levels for early July. These lower flows are likely accompanied by warmer than normal temperatures, which challenge trout that need cold water to survive. Conditions will be particularly hard for this year’s juvenile trout, which will emerge from their gravel bed nests in mid-summer.
River Restoration Projects Support the Fish
Warren Colyer, Trout Unlimited fish biologist and UBC member, explained: “This year will be a test for our work. Our projects 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.”
For instance, the restoration work underway at IDFG’s Blackfoot River Wildlife Management Area is designed to help cutthroat trout cope with challenging conditions. New riffles and streambank restoration completed in the last two years are expected to raise the water table in restored reaches. This higher water table means more cool, upwelling water in the streambed, giving trout a break from the heat. IDFG biologist Carson Watkins explained: “Ultimately, the goal is to promote landscape-level resiliency to drought and warmer temperatures by increasing the capacity of the river system to retain water and moderate water temperatures. For cutthroat trout, this will help provide the type of cool thermal refuge they need to survive and complete their life cycle in the face of stressful conditions.”
2021 Projects Build on Past Investments.
This year’s UBC-funded projects will:
Support a third year of restoration at the Blackfoot River Wildlife Management Area in partnership with the IDFG as well as several other funders,
Upgrade a portion of the Diamond Creek Road that is subject to erosion, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and Caribou County, and
Fund start-up costs to replace a culvert impeding fish migration at Mill Canyon.