The East Fork of Rock Creek begins in the high elevations of the Pintler Range in the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest west of Phillipsburg, Montana. On National Forest lands, the East Fork of Rock Creek fishery is impacted by high road densities and past timber management practices. Westslope cutthroat are widely distributed, but their genetic integrity is uncertain. Historically, bull trout populations were well connected throughout this area. At the present time, their habitat has been fragmented, and in many cases isolated, resulting in population de¬clines throughout their range. Distribution of existing populations is patchy and often associated with more intact, unroaded areas. Brown trout and brook trout are also present in this area.
Downstream of the East Fork Rock Creek dam and reservoir, the majority of the watershed is private land and has been altered from natural conditions by human activities. Past land management, including grazing and hay production, have led to a severe lack of riparian vegetation. As a result, the East Fork of Rock Creek suffers from bank instability, channel over-widening, a reduction in the number of pools, and reduced stream shading provided by willows and other native woody vegetation species. Possibly due to high sediment loads and stream temperatures, this segment of the East Fork also contains high infection rates of whirling disease and very high numbers of tubifex worms. The mainstem of Rock Creek downstream is also whirling disease positive.
In 2006, Five Valleys Land Trust, Trout Unlimited, and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks began to work with private landowners to address these historic impacts to fish and wildlife habitat on private land in the East Fork Rock Creek drainage. This project will address 2.5 miles of the East Fork of Rock Creek and .5 miles of a tributary called Meadow Creek on private land. The parcel is approximately 2,685 acres and has been historically managed for cattle grazing. It is located downstream of the East Fork Rock Creek dam at the confluence of Meadow Creek and the East Fork of Rock Creek. The property is bordered by the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest on the west side and by private land on the upstream and downstream portions.
New fence lines were mapped out by the partnership team to provide an average 75 foot stream setback, largely following historic floodplain terraces that border both sides of the creek and are elevated about 5-8 feet from the current water surface. Approximately 12,000 feet of new fencing will be needed to enclose the stream corridor and connect to existing fence lines. Because there are elk, moose and mule deer on the property, the project team will use wildlife-friendly fencing on the newly constructed sections, including a 4 strand fence, following spacing and material recommendations established by Montana FWP for properties with high or continuous livestock presence. The fencing project was completed in the summer of 2009 thanks to Montana’s Future Fisheries program.