Of Trout and Tetons

Written by: Emily Nichols

A pair of gorgeous cutthroats.
Photo by Jay Fleming Photography

The Henry’s Fork, the Teton and the South Fork of the Snake call anglers from coast to coast; the pristine rivers teeming with trout represent a mecca to accomplished fly fisherman. With the help of Orvis, the Teton Regional Land Trust continues to make a difference for these iconic fisheries.

Many who fish these waters are unaware of the protection that has kept them free from housing developments and expansions. Decades of conservation work by the Teton Regional Land Trust and partners has been accomplished along the South Fork of the Snake, Teton and Henry’s fork rivers keeping their waters pure, protecting habitat for wildlife and helping farmers and ranchers continue to cultivate the ground.

Vital spawning tributaries have been the target of Teton Regional Land Trust’s protection work along these rivers. In the Teton Valley, at the foot of the Teton Mountains, an 842-acre working cattle ranch is home to a beautiful mosaic of willow-lined spring creeks, healthy aspen stands, and wet meadow pastures that collectively provide the nutrition necessary to grow healthy cows and incredibly large trout.

The Six Springs Ranch has forever been protected by a generous landowner who worked with the Teton Regional Land Trust to put the ranch under a conservation easement. The conservation easement which protects the ranch is a legal agreement that allows for continued farming and ranching, but permanently restricts the type and amount of future development that can occur on the property. Conservation easements not only preserve scenic views and wildlife habitat, they also preserve the agricultural way of life. Teton Regional Land Trust also works with landowners to improve their property and these important tributaries through restoration projects that include streambank stabilization and enhancement.

“This ranch epitomizes the best of Teton Valley to me – fish, wildlife and agriculture, and the land trust has the good fortune to help manage this property to benefit all three,” explains Teton Regional Land Trust Executive Director Chet Work. “Managing a ranch to be economically viable and also provide high-quality habitat for fish and wildlife is absolutely possible, but it requires strong commitment and active management.”

Six Springs Ranch is named for the six spring creeks that well up on the property and flow into Teton Creek and then into the Teton River. During late spring/early summer, Yellowstone cutthroat trout move upstream from the Teton River onto the ranch and into the many tributary creeks seeking clean gravel beds where they dig nests known as “redds” for spawning. Clean, exposed gravel beds are vital to the cutthroat’s reproductive success; they provide protection for the developing eggs and security for the newly hatched fish.

Cutthroat tails break the water’s surface.
Photo by Jay Fleming Photography

In an ongoing effort to better understand the needs of cutthroat trout and the importance of Teton Creek and its tributaries, Teton Regional Land Trust, Friends of the Teton River, and Idaho Department of Fish and Game work cooperatively to monitor cutthroat spawning and movement on Six Springs Ranch and adjacent properties.

This past summer, 51 cutthroat redds were identified on Six Springs Creek, the largest of the spring tributaries on the ranch.

“During my surveys of cutthroat spawning areas throughout Teton Valley, Six Springs Creek had, by far, the highest densities of cutthroat redds of all spring creeks surveyed, no other spring creek tributary even came close,” explains biologist James Frasier, who completes most of the surveys and works for Friends of the Teton River. Teton Creek, which also flows through a portion of Six Springs Ranch, had an incredible 61 cutthroat redds. “We knew Six Springs Ranch played an important role in cutthroat reproduction,” Chet Work says, “but results of this study shed new light on just how important these spawning tributaries are to Teton River trout populations.”

To date, Teton Regional Land Trust has partnered with 70 families in the Teton Valley to protect over 10,000 acres of these private lands because they provide so much for our community.

Teton Regional Land Trust will continue to seek opportunities to work with landowners on sound management techniques and sustainable agricultural practices that benefit the fish and wildlife we all enjoy in Teton Valley.

For more information and to support the work of the Teton Regional Land Trust along the Teton, South Fork of the Snake and Henry’s Fork rivers visit www.tetonlandtrust.org.

To get a real feel for this remarkable region, and learn more about how you can help, check this out:

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