This summer, a large wood restoration project to improve steelhead habitat was completed on private land along one mile of the East Fork Potlatch River. With the addition of this project, we have restored close to three miles of stream, and we are starting to see changes in steelhead movement and behavior that suggests these projects are making a difference.
The large wood projects are designed to mimic the natural process where large trees in forested areas die, tip over and accumulate throughout a river. Land use practices have removed large trees from areas immediately surrounding the East Fork Potlatch River. We see the highest density of steelhead in the upper river where mature forest surrounds the river and large wood recruitment occurs naturally.
As you move downstream, large wood, and thus steelhead, become scarce as humans have converted the forested landscape to open pastures and meadows. This change has resulted in more extreme water temperatures during both summer and winter and a loss of structure that provides juvenile steelhead refuge from spring high flows, hiding cover from predators, and places to shelter during cold winter months. By reintroducing large wood back into this river, we hope to restore this degraded summer and winter rearing habitat.
Past research has shown that many juvenile steelhead in the East Fork Potlatch River leave before they reach an age and size needed to survive their migration to the ocean. We theorize that the lack of available summer and winter rearing habitat in the East Fork is the reason these fish leave early. Recent monitoring has shown that juvenile steelhead growth, survival, and the age they migrate from the East Fork Potlatch River is improving giving us confidence that our habitat restoration projects are starting to make a difference. We are hopeful that these efforts will continue to make a difference and ultimately result in more adult steelhead returning to the Potlatch River watershed.