Lending Spring Creeks a Helping Hand
Publisher: The Jackson Hole Land Trust
Date: Fall / Winter 2007
The image of a massive excavator digging around in a stream bed does not often conjure sentiments of healing waters and restoration. But when that excavator pulls up four feet of mucky, homogenous silt to expose a long buried bed of perfect spawning gravel (small rock cobble in which trout lay their eggs) it becomes apparent that life is about to improve for the trout of Cody Creek. Removing the silt from these creeks is like uncovering a time capsule. In those bare spawning gravels lie the secrets of our valley’s watershed prior to human alterations.
The Snake River trout species are dependent on the numerous spring creeks and tributaries for their reproduction. With the installation of levees along the Snake River, the connectivity of these spring creeks to the main stem of the river became impaired. Additionally, the natural flood regimes that historically would clear out any silt in these ecologically valuable spring creeks was lost. Conveyance of water for agricultural purposes also alters natural stream flow patterns, causing accumulation of silt. With the buildup of silt comes encroaching vegetation, making watercourses more difficult for trout to travel upstream for necessary reproductive efforts. The presence of this sludgy silt also illustrates the need for humans to take action to restore stream health, in balance with the needs of other species, such as trumpeter swans.
Roger Smith, the Director of Outdoor Pursuits and Resident Naturalist at 3 Creek Ranch, began with the vision that trout should be able to leave the Snake River, find viable spawning habitat, and reach the headwaters of Blue Crane Creek, Cody Creek, and Spring Creek, all of which flow through the 3 Creek Ranch development. He began working with his neighbors in 2005 to create connectivity for trout and provide more optimal habitat. Roger worked with Joe Urbani and Associates to maintain the thalwegs (the deepest part of the creek channel), add graveled point bars to force the streams back into a natural meandering pattern, and alter the velocity of the water to create a dynamic flow. The crew removed tons of silt with excavators and in turn placed tons of perfectly sized spawning gravel onto the stream beds in desirable spawning areas. The trout habitat was further improved by placing multiple logs into the banks to create sheltered overhangs for the fish.
In late spring, mimicking the former role of strong spring flood waters, Roger and his crew don their waders and rake the spawning gravels to remove the accumulated silt and vegetation. These creeks will require constant maintenance, and every 15 years the process of dredging and graveling will need to be repeated, a costly and demanding endeavor. Prior to the restoration, Roger used to see only three redds (a depression in the gravel stream bottom where trout have laid and fertilized their eggs) among all the 3 Creek Ranch waters, now he sees 12-14 redds each spring. Not only is the hydrologic health of these streams greatly improved but the fishing has exceeded even its own world class status.