The Clark Fork River flows approximately 310 miles from its origin at the Continental Divide near Butte, Montana to the Idaho border. When the Clark Fork River crosses into Idaho, it is Montana’s largest river, carrying an average 22,000 cubic feet of water per second – enough to fill an Olympic size swimming pool every 4 seconds. The river and its tributaries are among the most popular destinations for fly fishing in the United States and, with the historic removal of Milltown Dam and 2.2 million cubic yards of toxic mining sediments in 2009, the upper and lower river, as well as the Blackfoot River, were reunited.
Bull trout were listed as a federally threatened species in the Clark Fork River- as part of the larger Columbia River basin- in 1998, and westslope cutthroat are a petitioned listed species. Historic impacts due to logging, mining, agriculture and transportation infrastructure have limited migratory fish movement and degraded spawning and rearing habitat. Furthermore, the river upstream of Missoula, Montana is considered the nation’s largest Superfund site, where mining contamination severely impacts water quality and fisheries.
Trout Unlimited staff launched the Clark Fork River program in 2004, with a focus on remediating abandoned mine sites to benefit native fish. The program now includes three focus areas:
TU staff and volunteers work closely with agency personnel from Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and the Lolo National Forest, as well as private landowners, local government, community groups and other conservation organizations. In the past 7 years, TU and partners have put more than $3 million dollars into fisheries improvements, reclaimed 4 mine sites, improved 9 miles of instream habitat, fenced 3 miles of riparian corridor, decommissioned 100 miles of former logging roads, revegetated 8,000 feet of riprapped riparian road, upgraded or removed 40 culverts and incorporated 2,000 volunteer hours into watershed restoration planning and implementation.