Trout habitat getting a makeover

Trout Unlimited and Caribou-Targhee National Forest are in the third year of a project to give trout and other native fish an extreme home makeover.

The Tincup Creek Stream Restoration Project is well underway. The third summer of work started the week of July 22 and will run through the end of September. The goal is to improve ecosystem function and habitat for cutthroat trout and other native fish species on five miles of degraded stream on Caribou-Targhee National Forest land.

Tincup is a large-scale, multiphased project initiated in 2017. It is expected to be completed in 2020, but it needs the public’s help. A volunteer day is scheduled for September 21, and TU needs all hands on deck.

The Tincup Creek project area is located in southest Idaho, above the junction of Highway 34 (Tincup Highway) and USFS Road #117 (Tincup / Bridge Creek Road), between Wayan, Idaho, and Freedom, Wyoming. Tincup Creek within the project area has been impaired and degraded for more than 60 years, with the primary cause of the degradation linked to aerial spraying of willows in 1956. The loss of willows precipitated the destabilization of the stream and led to the loss of meander bends and stream length, steepened gradients, channel downcutting, and an unhealthy, disconnected floodplain and riparian zone.

Tincup Creek is (or should be) home to Yellowstone cutthroat trout, northern leatherside chub, boreal toads, western pearl shell mussels, and pilose crayfish, all native species with special land management emphasis. It’s also home to native longnose and speckled dace, sculpin, reside shiners, and mountain suckers. Its assemblage of native species put Tincup Creek on the National Fish Habitat Partnership’s list of “10 Waters to Watch” in 2017. But before the project started in 2017, trout numbers were low, suggesting poor habitat complexity for juvenile trout and the need for habitat restoration.

The project’s goals are to restore the stream channel and floodplain processes and function to allow for all parts of the aquatic system to interact with each other. Restoration techniques include building floodplain benches, transplanting whole willows, reconnecting historic meanders, adding large woody debris, elevating riffles for floodplain reconnection, and reinforcing naturally-occurring beaver dams. These techniques will be carried out by heavy equipment operators experienced in-stream restoration work over roughly 1.2 miles of stream. In total, the project will restore five miles of aquatic habitat in the Tincup Creek watershed.

“The restoration and recovery is going great,” said Lee Mabey, forest fisheries biologist for Caribou-Targhee National Forest. “It’s been great to see the stream connected to its floodplain again and the response of the western toads, ibis, cranes, many other waterfowl and of course the fish. A shout out to our many partners for helping push this forward.”

The Tincup Creek Stream 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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