Blackfoot River Habitat Improvements Look to Provide Better Space for Fish and Wildlife

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A long-term restoration project on the Blackfoot River is aimed at reviving what was once among Idaho’s best resident trout fisheries. Fish and Game staff broke ground this fall on the first part of a multi-year project to enhance instream and riparian habitat on the upper Blackfoot River downstream from the confluence of Lanes and Diamond creeks.

The Blackfoot River and Blackfoot Reservoir used to provide anglers a remarkable fishing opportunity for native Yellowstone cutthroat trout, unfortunately, a history of overharvest, predation, and intensive land and water use caused a population decline that has resulted in fewer angling opportunities in the river and lake.

Aquatic habitat has gradually improved in the river due to diverse and ongoing efforts and partnerships, which have changed land-use practices and enhanced important parts of the drainage. Fish and Game has been a part of that effort by working with a variety of partners, from industry to conservation organizations, which all continue efforts to improve fish habitat in the river.

The latest project to further that work is occurring on Fish and Game’s 2,400-acre Blackfoot River Wildlife Management Area in Caribou County, where trout spawning and juvenile rearing habitat has been impacted. The project employs a combination of river channel manipulation and passive recovery treatments to increase the variety and complexity of habitat used by trout throughout their life stages.

Restoration efforts include different treatments that create immediate habitat for fish, but also help the river to build good fish habitat over time, such as cover,  pools, and stable banks.  Other efforts strategically use livestock grazing on the wildlife management area and along headwater streams, in partnership with adjacent landowners and producers, to provide seasonal benefits to trout populations and enhancements in livestock production. Anticipated benefits should extend to both wildlife and fish populations due to the unique approach being taken, which pairs habitat enhancements in upland areas with projects along the river and riparian to improve the entire drainage. The project dovetails with ongoing pelican predation management in the system by reducing predation impacts on the upper river and increasing the trout population’s productivity.

Partners involved in the projects include a host of entities representing the mining and livestock production industries, conservation groups, and government agencies.

Over the long-term, the habitat enhancement projects at the landscape scale are expected to produce better fishing for Yellowstone cutthroat trout and other species that use the river and Blackfoot Reservoir.