No Roads = New Habitat for Native Trout

Upper Lolo excavator
July 29, 2016

Things are looking up for cutties and bull trout in the Lolo Creek watershed!

In 2009 the Lolo National Forest acquired over 32 sections of former Plum Creek Timber land in Upper Lolo Creek through the Montana Legacy Project. The East Fork of Lolo Creek is home to native cutthroat and bull trout species, and is significantly impacted by sediment generated by forest roads and failing culverts. The Lolo National Forest has been very active in working on sediment issues in the Upper Lolo area, and has decommissioned 65 miles of forest roads and removed 37 culverts to date. The Clark Fork Coalition is working on a project that is a continuation of that long-term restoration effort.

We caught up with CFC project manager Jed Whiteley for a few minutes to talk about the work happening in the East Fork of Lolo Creek that will greatly improve fish habitat, water quality, fishing opportunities, and the tourism economy.

Why is this restoration project important?Bull trout

It’s important because the East Fork of Lolo Creek holds two key native fish species, bull trout and Westslope Cutthroat trout that we are working to protect and restore. With this project we are reducing sediment in the creek by decommissioning 12 miles of old logging roads, and both these species of fish are sensitive to sediment, especially bull trout. And, more importantly I think, we are opening up 10 miles of stream that wasn’t accessible to fish by removing 19 culverts that are partial to full fish barriers.

Why is sediment a problem?

Sediment is a problem because it fills in between the cobble in the stream, so when fish are spawning it doesn’t allow the upwelling of cold water to oxygenate the eggs, and it can smother the eggs. Plus, it can effect the productivity of the stream, sediment can negatively affect macroinvertebrate numbers. And less bugs mean less trout.

excavatorHow big is the project?

This is a large project with many important partners. We are working with the Lolo National Forest with funding from the FWP Future Fisheries Program, DEQ 319 funding, the Westslope Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and the Lolo National Forest. Our heavy equipment contractor is Specialty Excavating out of Hamilton. This project puts $230,000 into the local economy through local contractors, workers, diesel fuel, hay, seed, and materials.

On the landscape we’re treating 12 miles of road, and removing 19 culverts. So that’s 19 stream crossings that are being opened up and restored to their natural state. Timeline, the construction worked started in July and will go on to at least mid-September. In 5 years you won’t even know that the roads were there.

What are the challenges?

The soil we’re working in is highly erosive. It’s part of the Idaho batholith and is very unique to the Lolo Forest. It has little cohesion to itself, almost like working in sugar. It’s pretty much the hardest material you can work in to do stream restoration. Which is why we’re doing this project. If these culverts fail, over 300 yards of sediment per culvert, almost 375 tons of sediment, could go straight in to the creek. It’s a really big deal.

How can the community help?

There’s going to be a large volunteer effort in the fall to help with reseeding the roads. Contact the Clark Fork Coalition volunteer coordinator Katie Racette for more information, or call 406-542-0539 x212.

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