Pole Creek Gets More
by Greg Moore
Sawtooth Valley creek is prime salmon and steelhead habitat
Western Rivers Conservancy and the Sawtooth National Forest have teamed up to conserve 619 acres along Pole Creek, one of the Sawtooth Valley’s highest priority salmon-spawning streams and a key tributary to the Salmon River.
The project protected over a mile of Pole Creek, which is designated "critical habitat" for Chinook salmon, summer steelhead and bull trout along most of its length. It also conserved a short reach of the Salmon River near the confluence with the creek.
Western Rivers Conservancy bought the property earlier this year, and conveyed the lands to the Sawtooth National Forest for stream and riparian restoration and permanent protection within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
"The Salmon River is one of Idaho’s greatest natural treasures," said Dieter Erdmann, Interior West program director for Western Rivers Conservancy. "And conservation of its important headwater spawning tributaries like Pole Creek will ensure that the Salmon River’s fish, which migrate further than nearly any other anadromous fish in the world, stay with us forever."
Pole Creek is on the eastern side of the Sawtooth Valley, just below Galena Summit. Unlike streams on the western side of the valley, the creek originates from sedimentary geology in the White Cloud range. It therefore carries a relatively high nutrient load that sustains abundant insect life and excellent riparian habitat, the Forest Service and Western Rivers Conservancy stated in a news release. The result, they said, is outstanding spawning and rearing habitat for salmon, steelhead and bull trout.
The creek has been the focus of extensive restoration work by local and national nonprofits, local landowners and state and federal agencies. Millions of dollars have been invested in the stream to remove culverts, improve fish passage and increase flows during peak irrigation season, all with the intention of returning the stream to optimum health.
"Public acquisition of this property contributes a crucial piece of the conservation puzzle on Pole Creek," said Sawtooth National Recreation Area Ranger Kirk Flannigan. "We can now extend the restoration work that has been done elsewhere on the stream and help ensure Pole Creek stays healthy for the remarkable fish it sustains."
The Forest Service stated that it has committed to restoring this stretch of the creek and will manage it for the sake of the Salmon River’s fish and wildlife, especially the recovery of imperiled salmon, steelhead and bull trout. The project will also minimize future grazing in the stream’s sensitive riparian areas and prevent development along this reach of the creek.
Idaho Rivers United, an Idaho-based nonprofit that works to conserve rivers throughout Idaho, was pivotal in attracting Western Rivers Conservancy to Pole Creek.
"We know how critical Pole Creek is to the Salmon River and its runs of salmon and steelhead," said Kevin Lewis, Idaho Rivers United’s executive director. "We are glad that Western Rivers Conservancy could step in when this property became available and make it possible to restore another key mile of this exceptional stream."
Western Rivers Conservancy stated that it has long been drawn to the Salmon River, which flows through one of the largest wilderness areas in the lower 48. The Salmon plays host to one of the greatest fish migrations on earth, a journey of more than 900 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Rocky Mountains.
"Pole Creek is an excellent example of how combining conservation land acquisition with restoration can have a holistic impact on a river," Erdmann said. "In this case, our work is going to make a difference, not just in the Sawtooth Valley, but for the Salmon and Snake River basins as a whole."
Western Rivers Conservancy is a nonprofit organization that protects river ecosystems in the western United States. It acquires lands along rivers to protect critical habitat and to create or improve public access for compatible use and enjoyment.
In Upper Salmon, A Project for Fish by Greg Moore, Idaho Mountain Express, 4/23/14
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