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Restoration of Critical Spawning Habitat for Bonneville Cutthroat Trout

Category: Implementation
Status:  Current

Contact:  Mitch Poulson

Subject:  Fish Habitat, Bonneville Cutthroat
Category:  Implementation
Data Type:  Biology

Abstract:  Fisheries Biologists from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources are working with Rich County, Utah landowner Kent Johnson and other agencies to improve fisheries habitat in Bear Lake and one of its tributaries. They will be restoring critical spawning habitat for Bonneville cutthroat trout. Fisheries habitat will be improved by excavating the historic channel and repairing sections of the current channel.

The project is located south of Rendezvous Beach on property owned by Kent Johnson. Mr. Johnson uses the property during the spring for calving prior to moving the animals to summer feeding allotments. This project benefits the landowner because the cows cross Big Creek during the spring to bear their young in areas with cover and lush grass. Newborns are often lost trying to cross the stream resulting in financial losses to his ranching operation. Moving the channel to the historic location will reduce the number of calves lost during high water flow events during spring run off.

Historically, Big Spring Creek has been used by Bonneville cutthroat trout as spawning and rearing habitat. Degraded streambanks have been linked to declining habitat conditions. Sediment from degraded streambanks has caused critical spawning gravel beds to fill with silt. Excessive concentrations of nutrients have also contributed to the degraded fisheries habitat.

The Utah Division of wildlife resources will be taking measures to improve the fishery along Big Spring Creek this summer. Existing streambank conditions are contributing to the degraded water quality. Vertical banks deposit soil material in the stream and are not stable enough to allow vegetation to establish root systems. Aerial photography suggests the historic location of the channel to be north of the existing channel.

During high flows the existing channel will act as an overflow and will similarly be rehabilitated.
The Bear Lake Regional Commission will be applying treatments that enhance slope stability and reduce nutrients from entering the stream channel. Unstable streambanks will be reshaped to a more stable slope and revegetated using native willows and grasses. These treatments will improve conditions on the bare slope and prevent sediment and nutrients from adjacent lands from entering the channel.

By combining reconstruction of the historic stream channel and revegetating the existing channel, significant positive impacts on the water quality and fisheries habitat of Big Spring Creek and Bear Lake will occur. Historic spawning beds will be renewed by restoring the original channel and providing clean spawning gravels. Water quality will be improved through enhanced streamside vegetation to filter run off from adjacent land uses.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has completed similar projects on the west side of Bear Lake at Swan Creek. Habitat complexity was enhanced by creating additional pools and riffles and planting willows and river birch species at the waters edge along degraded areas.

The Bear Lake Regional Commission has been working to improve the water quality of Bear Lake by working with upstream landowners to improve streambank conditions along Thomas Fork Creek. Thomas Fork Creek is a tributary of the Bear River which flows into Bear Lake. Treatments similar to those proposed for Big Spring Creek have been implemented on Thomas Fork with great success. The Bear Lake Regional Commission has implemented over two miles of treatments to degraded streambank along Thomas Fork. These treatments are designed to improve the water quality and fisheries by restoring native vegetation and improving channel complexity.

This project will be completed through a cooperative effort between the Natural Resource Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Fish and Game and Bear Lake Regional Commission with significant input of time and material donated by Kent Johnson.

Investigators:   Poulsen, Mitch

Organizations:   Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Bear Lake Regional Commission