Tri-Basin project begins again in upper Greys River watershed

JACKSON, Wyo. — Watershed restoration and improvement continue in the Greys River drainage this summer. The ambitious project involves a partnership between Trout Unlimited (TU) and the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF).

Phase 2 of the Tri-Basin Fish Passage and Watershed Restoration Project is scheduled to begin soon. The project is a large-scale, multi-phase project initiated in 2018 to improve ecosystem function and reconnect stream habitat for cutthroat trout and other native fish species on BTNF lands.

This year’s construction implementation includes replacing an undersized culvert on the Greys River, near the confluence of Shale Creek, with a newly constructed bridge; as well as replacing three undersized culverts on Mink Creek, Clear Creek, and the West Fork Greys River.

Construction is scheduled to begin August 17 and will last approximately two weeks. During this time, BTNF will temporarily close the Shale Creek Road (Forest Road #10126). The Shale Creek Road is located in the upper Greys River watershed.

The closure will occur near the confluence of Shale Creek and the Greys River. The public should also be aware that construction could also slow traffic on the Greys River Road (Forest Service Road 10138) near where the Shale Creek Road joins the Greys River Road.

The work is made possible through a unique collaboration between TU, BTNF, and other partners. The Tri-Basin Fish Passage and Watershed Restoration Project represent an opportunity to reconnect over 21 stream miles for native cutthroat trout and measurably improve water quality in the heart of Wyoming “Cutt-Slam” territory.

The project seeks to protect, reconnect, and restore streams on BTNF lands associated with a commercial timber sale and its access routes. The “Tri-Basin” project area lies at the headwaters of three basins and encompasses three native cutthroat trout species distributions (Snake River, Bonneville, and Colorado River cutthroat).

The Tri-Basin area is a renowned destination for anglers seeking to complete the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s (WGFD) Wyoming Cutt-Slam, because of the three cutthroat trout species found in a relatively small area.

The Greys River drainage, in the Snake River watershed, where the majority of the timber sale is proposed, is a heavily used, popular resource area for recreational activities such as fishing, ORV use, camping, hunting, and non- motorized recreation.

The timber sale’s primary access route travels up the Smiths Fork drainage, in the Bear River watershed, as well as a short section in the LaBarge Creek drainage, in the Green River watershed.

As part of planning for the timber sale, which is anticipated to improve forest health and resilience while reducing wildfire risk, the BTNF has partnered with TU to dovetail watershed restoration and stream reconnection efforts with the preparation of access roads.

The project’s goals are

  • reconnect and restore streams within the project area for the benefit of Snake River cutthroat trout by replacing undersized and damaged culverts
  • improve watershed conditions and water quality by reducing sedimentation and erosion from roads into waterways for the benefit of Snake River, Bonneville, and Colorado cutthroat trout
  • reduce maintenance needs for Forest roads by replacing undersized culverts with structures that have a larger flow and sediment transport capacity and by improving drainage and low water crossings.

Together, these actions will measurably improve fish passage, water quality, stream function, and aquatic habitat in the Tri-Basin area. In addition to the Shale Creek culvert being replaced in 2020, three additional culverts (West Fork Greys, Mink Creek, Clear Creek) within the timber sale area identified by BTNF as current fish passage barriers are will be replaced in August 2020.

Together, these four projects are reconnecting a total of 21.3 miles of habitat for Snake River cutthroat trout and other native fish in the upper Greys River and its tributaries.

Other project activities initiated in 2018 included road improvements to reduce sedimentation and erosion. Total project costs are estimated at $375,000.

“We are excited to embark on this project with the Bridger-Teton National Forest that will reconnect so much coldwater habitat for native trout in the headwaters of the Greys River,” said Leslie Steen, TU northwest Wyoming program director. “We are grateful to all of the partners that have supported this very timely opportunity to address fish migration barriers and stream health and look forward to the public being able to access and enjoy the results of our work”

The Tri-Basin Fish Passage and Watershed Restoration Project is a project of TU’s Snake River Headwaters Home Rivers Initiative, an ambitious initiative to restore and protect the headwaters of the Snake River and its fishery, together with a diverse group of community, landowner, and agency partners.

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