2011 Upper Clark Fork Project Update

Written by: Jill Alban, Clark Fork Coalition

It’s been an exciting spring on the Upper Clark Fork. The Clark Fork Coalition and Trout Unlimited each hired additional staff to work specifically on restoring priority tributaries in the upper basin—so a big welcome is due to Andy Fischer of CFC and Casey Hackathorn of TU. 

Winter has been holding on a little longer this year across western Montana, and the snow just keeps on falling. But the cold hasn’t kept CFC staff from hitting the field to work on dozens of projects in the upper river. Here’s a quick overview on tributaries receiving funding through The Orvis Commitment:

We’ve brokered two flow restoration projects on Cottonwood Creek (the projects will be finalized as soon as funding is solidified), which will keep cool water in the creek during the summer, and also increase flows to the upper Clark Fork mainstem. We’ve also helped TU and the Watershed Restoration Coalition (WRC) with their assessments of fish passage barriers on Gold, Cottonwood, Dempsey, Racetrack, Lost, and Warm Springs creeks.  

At the Clark Fork Coalition’s working ranch, Ranchlands Program Manager Bryce Andrews is preparing to launch a pilot project—a split-season water lease on the Clark Fork River and Dry Cottonwood Creek. This project will keep trout wet in Dry Cottonwood Creek during late summer by compensating the ranch for shutting down its irrigation ditch (which draws water from the stream) halfway through the hay-growing season. We hope this project will showcase the financial incentives for ranchers to leave water in-stream, and will help neighboring landowners in making conservation-based land and water decisions.

Meanwhile, everyone who loves and fishes Rock Creek—a blue-ribbon trout stream and a main tributary in the Upper Clark Fork—breathed a sigh of relief this spring after Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer took his “veto branding iron” to a bill that would have encouraged cyanide processing and new open-pit mines in Montana.  An out-of-state company has its eye on the headwaters of Rock Creek for a potential gold mining operation. If the “cyanide bill” had passed, Rock Creek would have been ground-zero for a new large open-pit mine—and the acid mine drainage pollution that comes with it. CFC and TU staff worked overtime this year in their advocacy and outreach efforts to keep cyanide mining out of the Clark Fork basin, and were thrilled that the Governor vetoed this bad-for-rivers bill.



   A camera is mounted to a remote control helicopter to capture footage from above


Finally, we recently had the opportunity to showcase decades of progress on the Clark Fork through the lens of a television camera. In mid-April, TU TV (which is actually based locally out of Missoula, MT) filmed an episode of the acclaimed show over the course of several days on the Clark Fork. The episode, set to air in June, includes footage of flow restoration projects on Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch, aerials of the former Milltown Dam site at the Clark Fork-Blackfoot confluence, and, of course, dozens of shots of blue-ribbon trout that host Jed Fiebelkorn and guide John Herzer reeled in over the course of three days. At the end of the trip, the tally included rainbows, brown trout, a cut-bow, a cutthroat, and even one very small bull trout (which was NOT fished for deliberately!) Despite the below-freezing temperatures—as well as rain, hail, and snow—the crew still had a blast exploring local holes on the Clark Fork, western Montana’s very own “river on the rebound.”  Stay tuned to links to the Upper Clark Fork story on TU TV  this June.


Join us in supporting this great work, donate at The Orvis Commitment today.



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