Restoration is the word. Habitat restoration, riparian restoration, watershed restoration. It’s all happening in Caribou County, thanks to the Southeast Idaho Wildlife Mitigation Fund, administered by Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust, and careful planning by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), Trout Unlimited (TU), and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game – Blackfoot River Watershed Restoration

IDFG will remove reed canary grass that outcompetes native riparian plants along the Blackfoot River as part of their larger river restoration project. Removing the reed canary grass and restoring structure to the river channel will improve habitat for numerous fish and wildlife species.

IDFG’s Blackfoot River Watershed Restoration will bring serious restoration to the first six miles of the Blackfoot River, located in the Blackfoot River Wildlife Management Area northeast of Soda Springs. “This project will restore native wet meadow and riparian habitats, improve Yellowstone cutthroat trout survival, and remove encroaching conifers from 150 acres of aspen habitat,” said Anna Owsiak, Regional Habitat Manager, IDFG.

Conifer encroachment threatens aspen habitat, which IDFG’s Blackfoot River Restoration Project will address.

The project will not only benefit Yellowstone cutthroat trout, but also moose, elk, sandhill cranes, Greater sage-grouse, and leopard frogs.

Trout Unlimited – Tincup Creek Restoration

The Tincup Creek Stream Restoration Project is a large-scale, multi-phased project to improve ecosystem function and habitat for Yellowstone cutthroat trout and other native species by restoring channel and floodplain function on 5 miles of degraded stream on Caribou-Targhee National Forest lands.

BEFORE: Heavily eroded streambanks like this one disconnect waterways from their historic floodplains.
AFTER: Restoration work in earlier phases of the Tincup Creek Restoration project re-elevated the channel. Trout Unlimited with use funds from the Southeast Idaho Wildlife Mitigation Fund to complete the final stage of this project.

The funds from the Southeast Idaho Wildlife Mitigation Fund will go toward contractor costs for implementing the third and final phase of this project, including restoring eroded meander bends using bioengineering techniques, reconnecting old meanders, and raising riffle elevations.

“This project will improve habitat and continue to promote a diverse assemblage of native species by focusing on restoring floodplain connectivity, proper channel dimensions, and old meanders,” said Leslie Steen, Snake River Headwaters Project Manager, TU.

Trout Unlimited – Blackfoot River Streambank and Fisheries Habitat Improvement

A second project from TU will include planting willows and large toe wood trees along the Blackfoot River. This riparian vegetation will provide cover for fish and strengthen the riverbank’s root system.

This naked, eroded streambank provides very little cover for fish, something the Blackfoot River Streambank and Habitat Improvement project will address.

U.S. Forest Service – Ephriam Aspen Enhancement

“Many of the Ephraim aspen stands are over mature and are being replaced by conifer,” says Mike Duncan, District Ranger with the U.S. Forest Service.

The U.S. Forest Service will regenerate and maintain aspen and mountain brush communities by changing species composition, age diversity and stand structure, in part by reintroducing fire into the ecosystem. “Selective burning is one of the ways we can reduce or remove encroaching conifer and stimulate new growth in aspen and mountain brush communities,” said Mike Duncan, District Ranger.

This photograph shows new aspen growth following a prescribed burn in 2005 (photo circa 2006).

What is the Southeast Idaho Wildlife Mitigation Fund?

The fertilizer company Itafos Conda LLC (formerly Agrium) provided $1.2 million to establish the Southeast Idaho Wildlife Mitigation Fund as part of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the Rasmussen Valley phosphate mine. The fund’s goal is to offset the mine’s impacts to wildlife by funding habitat restoration and conservation projects nearby.

Sagebrush Steppe Land Trust administers the fund to implement wildlife habitat protection projects, which are evaluated and approved by the Habitat Improvement Team (HIT), a committee of natural resource, land management, and Tribal trustees. This collaborative effort brings together private industry, state and federal agencies, private nonprofits, and Tribal trustees to bring more conservation dollars to Idaho for the benefit of its wildlife, natural lands, and outdoor enthusiasts.

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