I admit that as a biologist, the way I describe much of the work TU does is much more complex and wonky than it probably needs to be…even to my own little boy. He recently turned five and has been really pushing to join me for a day at work in the field. It finally happened in November, when daycare was closed and I was helping to coordinate a culvert replacement project. He had to come. As a father, of course, I laid out a whole list of rules that I needed him to follow, because we were going to be working around heavy equipment and we were quite a distance from home.
The original culvert was impassable to most fish trying to migrate out of the Weber River in search of spawning habitat in Jacobs Creek.
Our project was a cooperative one with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Questar Gas. They had been replacing a section of their pipeline and the access road, which crosses over Jacobs Creek, a tiny tributary to the Weber River, was impassable to fish. They were agreeable to replacing the culvert with a passable, baffled culvert. My little boy asked why we were replacing the “pipe” on the creek. I tried my best to distill my description to language and concepts that I thought a five year old would understand. But, being trained in biology, I really struggled to keep words like habitat connectivity, metapopulations and stochastic out of the conversation. I realized that some of the most significant challenges we face, when working on the ground is our inability to tell the story of the fish and why we are taking certain actions.
A Weber River Bonneville cutthroat trout caught below the road culvert in 2011. This fish never made it upstream of the culverts.
Moving the new baffled culvert in place.
Placing fill around the culvert.
Jacobs Creek is really outsized in its importance to the Weber River cutthroat trout. In fact it had been under the radar for years, and nobody knew it even had fish prior to 2011. As it turns out, it is a really important stream to cutthroat trout in the Weber. Although it is small (less than 3 feet in width), a large number of cutthroat trout living in the Weber River migrate into the Jacobs Creek attempting to spawn each spring. This culvert, located only a few hundred feet upstream of the mouth of Jacobs Creek was barely passable to fish. By replacing this impassable culvert, we were able to open access to approximately 3 miles of important spawning habitat for Weber River cutthroat trout.
The new Jacobs Creek Culvert in place and passable for trout.
Later that day, when we got home, my little boy was explaining to his mom why we were replacing the “pipe” in the creek. And he said it quite simply and profoundly…”Because the fish can’t get to their nests.” He is right. One of the major challenges that the Bonneville cutthroat trout face in the Weber River is that they can’t reach their nests (spawning habitat). In fact this was just one of over 100 barriers to fish passage that exist across the Weber River Basin. This project was an example of the collaborative conservation work we are undertaking on the Weber River, helping the cutthroat trout get to their "nests." The bottom line is that by engaging in these important habitat reconnection projects in the tributaries, we are benefitting the cutthroat trout in the mainstem, which we as anglers enjoy as better and more diverse fishing.
Native material was placed inside the culvert to enhance fish passage.