JACKSON, WY – Have you seen these fishy signs floating around town? You may have seen one in your neighbor’s yard or at Snake River Brewing, Nest, Shooting Star, the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole, St. John’s Episcopal Church, or the Town Square. The original Abby Paffrath and Ben Roth “Certified Trout Friendly” signs indicate lawns that have committed to “trout friendly” landscaping practices.
The Jackson Hole Clean Water Coalition launched the Trout Friendly Lawns program to encourage water quality stewardship in local landscaping practices. Looking at Jackson Hole’s mountain streams, rivers, and lakes, it’s easy to think that our waters are as pristine as the scenery surrounding them. However, as Jackson Hole continues to grow, nutrient pollution in our waterways is increasing, degrading water quality and threatening the health of plants, insects, fish, wildlife, and humans that rely on clean water.
A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey found that residential landscaping is one of the major sources of nutrient pollution in the Fish Creek watershed. According to the study, an estimated 66,000 pounds of nitrogen are applied to lawns and parks in the Fish Creek watershed annually. If everyone in the watershed were to commit to Trout Friendly Lawns practices, we could collectively cut that amount of nitrogen in half.
However, it’s not just the Westbank that needs to consider how their lawns are impacting water—other parts of Jackson Hole are seeing nutrient loading issues as well. Excess nutrients in waterways, whether from landscaping, wastewater treatment facilities, septic systems, agriculture, or other sources, leads to algae and aquatic plant growth. This, when left unchecked in a stream with a constant source of nutrients, can degrade the macroinvertebrate community, altering the food web and causing an imbalance in the ecosystem. In groundwater, these same nutrients can lead to serious drinking water issues.
Nitrate, the very same chemical found in fertilizer, has quickly become a major issue in drinking water sources in Teton County. By making small changes to our landscaping practices, we can collectively improve water quality in Jackson Hole for all the plants, people, and wildlife that rely on clean water.
Here are four easy trout friendly practices you can commit to that will greatly reduce your lawn’s impact on water quality:
- Limit Fertilization. Use slow-release or organic fertilizer only if needed, not to exceed two pounds of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of yard per year. Note that two pounds of nitrogen is not the same as two pounds of fertilizer, and the directions on the bag should help you make the calculation. Also, don’t fertilize within 20 feet of water.
- Be Water Wise. Sprinkle your lawn with water at dawn or dusk every other day, and don’t water while it’s raining. Raise your mower blade height to three to four inches so less water and fertilizer are needed. Water that isn’t lost to evaporation or used by vegetation will runoff into nearby waterbodies or seep directly into the groundwater, carrying pollutants with it.
- Plant Natives & Maintain Streamside Buffers. Maintain a five-foot buffer of unmanicured landscaping around water to act as a filter between lawns and ponds, streams, and rivers.
- Use Herbicides and Pesticides Appropriately. Only apply herbicide for state and county listed noxious weeds, using spot spraying or mechanical removal techniques where appropriate. Contact Teton County Weed & Pest District for invasive species management plan information.
Teton Conservation District, Friends of Fish Creek, and Trout Unlimited founded the Jackson Hole Clean Water Coalition to address water quality issues throughout the valley. Over the past year, the Snake River Fund, Teton County Weed & Pest District, the Jackson Hole Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming, and Ducks Unlimited have all joined the coalition as well. Certify your lawn at www.jhcleanwater.org.