Project to restore lower Swift Creek begins in Star Valley

STAR VALLEY, Wyo. — Trout Unlimited (TU), Star Valley Conservation District (SVCD), USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program announced today that the Lower Swift Creek Stream Restoration and Stabilization Project is currently underway.

Located just outside of Afton, WY, the project seeks to protect and improve spawning cutthroat trout habitat in lower Swift Creek, reduce sediment contributions to the Salt River, and reduce landowner flood risk and maintenance requirements. Construction began the last week of October and will continue into the fall and early winter, depending on weather conditions.

The Lower Swift Creek Stream Restoration and Stabilization Project focuses on a mile of lower Swift Creek near its confluence with the Salt River. The lower half of the project area provides year-round water and important spawning habitat for native Snake River cutthroat trout and brown trout.

“The Salt River supports an amazing, intact, and wild fishery which is not dependent upon hatchery stock. Because of this, careful maintenance of naturally-limited spawning habitats is vital to maintaining these fisheries for future generations,” said Anna Senecal, WGFD aquatic habitat biologist.

Swift Creek has been impacted by a variety of historic human land uses, which together have contributed to bank and channel instability, land loss, and degraded trout habitat in its lower reaches, and sedimentation that impacts the Salt River. Private landowners approached conservation partners several years ago, concerned that the erosion and channel movement of Swift Creek would form a new confluence with the Salt River. This would have resulted in a large sediment release and the loss of about 800 feet of valuable trout spawning habitat in Swift Creek important to the Salt River fishery.

The lower bend that is at risk of failing into an oxbow of the Salt River, which would result in a loss of over 800 feet of spawning habitat. Photo: TU

Project partners have been working with local landowners in lower Swift Creek, including Lincoln County, on a plan to address these issues, which have resulted in loss of pasture, flooding, and difficulty maintaining agricultural activities.

The project design, which is based on natural channel design techniques by a stream restoration engineer, will stabilize the channel in-place in the upstream, seasonally-dry reach; realign the channel through existing riparian vegetation (cottonwoods and willows) where possible; create a new, non-incised channel in the downstream reach; and fence sensitive riparian areas. Instream structures will include bioengineered bank treatments such as toewood, rock toe, and soil lifts, grade control structures such as rock weirs, and riffle and pool sequencing designed to meet the hydrologic conditions of the stream.

“Working with the ag producers on this project and seeing their commitment to improve natural resources along Swift Creek has been great,” said Adam Clark, NRCS district conservationist in Afton. “Stream projects are complex and take time. The landowners have been flexible and willing to continue to work with us to improve the stream.” 

Together, these treatments are expected to restore fish habitat, stream function, bank stability, and riparian vegetation on lower Swift Creek. Treatments are also expected to reduce sediment contributions from bank erosion by 64%, equivalent to over 150 dump trucks of sediment per year. Project partners believe that it will be a good model for addressing similar issues in the upper Salt River in the future.

“We are excited to be able to showcase these best practices, with an eye towards working with other landowners in Star Valley on similar projects that will also benefit agricultural operations and fisheries,” said Kay Lynn Nield, SVCD manager.

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