Tribe works to restore river fishery

Projects will restore habitat for sturgeon, other native fish

BONNERS FERRY — Construction equipment is being mobilized, logs and root wads and other construction materials are being stockpiled, access roads are being built, and a fish rescue crew is on call.

What’s all this activity about? It is all preparation for construction of two Kootenai River Both projects are part of the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho’s Kootenai River Habitat Restoration Program.

“The Kootenai River Habitat Restoration Program is an ecosystem-based habitat restoration program designed to restore habitat for Kootenai River white sturgeon and other native fish such as burbot and kokanee,” Sue Ireland, director of the Tribe’s Fish and Wildlife Program, said.

The program includes approximately 10 unique projects that will be built over about 5 or 6 years. The first two projects which were located in the braided reach upstream of Bonners Ferry were completed in 2011.”

Ireland said that a goal of the habitat restoration program is to provide the best possible habitat conditions for Kootenai sturgeon and other native fish populations while working with the community infrastructure and agricultural land uses that are currently in place.

“We specifically wanted to design a ecosystem restoration program that addresses the habitat needs of sturgeon and other important fish populations without calling for additional flows or doing things that are not consistent with local community values and land uses,” said Ireland. The projects are designed to function within a range of ordinary Kootenai River flows but can also withstand abnormally high flows like those experienced this last year.

The projects being constructed this year are the North Side Channels project and Upper Meander project. Both project sites are located upstream of Bonners Ferry in the braided reach of the Kootenai River.

The North Side Channels project is designed to restore side channel habitat used by a variety of fish. Project actions will include restoration of bank cover vegetation; fencing to help manage grazing use; construction of pools, riffles and alcoves in the river; and development of enhanced wetland areas. The Upper Meander project will include stabilization of a severely eroding riverbank, livestock fencing and riparian restoration as well as construction of instream structures that will help deflect flows away from the bank. These instream structures will also help to create a series of pools that will provide more diverse habitats for a variety of fish in this river reach.

The Tribe has applied for and received all necessary permits and approvals to begin this year’s construction work. During the construction window, residents in the area may hear some construction traffic and may occasionally see increased sediment in the river. In addition, the Upper Meander project will include pile driving to construct the instream structures which will generate some temporary noise. The majority of instream construction work on both projects will happen in September and October with planting and bank restoration activities occurring in November.

The 2011 and 2012 projects, and the other projects that make up the Kootenai River Habitat Restoration Program, have been developed in coordination with regional biologists, river engineers, resource management agencies, and technical experts from a wide range of disciplines. Local landowners have also played a critical role by allowing restoration actions to occur on their private land and providing input on the project design concepts.

“We’re so grateful for the support and cooperation of the landowners who were involved in both last year’s and this year’s projects,” Jennifer Porter, Tribal Chair, said. “They are playing a huge role in helping to recover the Kootenai River ecosystem that will benefit all of us.”

The Tribe has hired a general contractor, Goodfellow Brothers, to construct the 2012 projects. The general contractor is working with local subcontractors whenever possible to provide materials and assist in different aspects of the project. Bonneville Power Administration provided funding for the planning, design, and construction of the project through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program.

Information: restoringthekootenai.org

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