Several recent research projects have highlighted the importance of the Smiths Fork for migratory Bonneville cutthroat trout. Telemetry studies conducted by multiple state and federal agencies and three different universities all point to the Smiths Fork and its tributaries as containing the best available spawning habitat for migratory, mainstem-dwelling BCT. Most of this spawning habitat is located at the upstream ends of the three major Smiths Fork tributaries. Accessing these habitats requires a very long and dangerous spawning migration (>75 miles) from the mainstem Bear River, where mature adults spend most of the year. There are, however, several smaller Smiths Fork tributaries located lower in the drainage that could provide more accessible spawning habitats for mainstem migrants. Most of these tributaries suffer from habitat degradation and fragmentation due to water diversions and migration barriers, and only one (Coal Creek) appears to be used currently. However, data from the University of Wyoming suggest that a relatively large number of migratory BCT spawn in this small stream. Grade Creek is a tributary located just downstream from Coal Creek that is very similar in drainage area, stream length, and potential habitat quality. However, Grade Creek has been disconnected from the Smiths Fork for the past 50 years by an irrigation diversion system that diverts the creek into a pond, and ultimately into another drainage basin altogether. The bottom two miles of the Grade Creek stream channel between the diversion and the Smiths Fork are permanently dewatered by this water delivery system.
Beginning in 2006 Trout Unlimited partnered with the landowner, the Bridger-Teton National Forest, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Natural resources Conservation Service, to reconnect Grade Creek to the Smiths Fork by upgrading the efficiency of the existing irrigation system and establishing a minimum streamflow in Grade Creek to allow upstream spawning migrations and juvenile outmigrations of Bear River BCT. In addition, restoring streamflow in two miles of dewatered channel in lower Grade Creek will increase habitat availability for native fish and other aquatic organisms in the drainage, including both leatherside chub and bluehead suckers. The Grade Creek Reconnection Project is scheduled for completion in the Fall of 2008.