On December 15, 2008, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) purchased 66,310 acres from Plum Creek in the Fish Creek, Nemote Creek, Petty Creek, and Miller Creek areas as part of Montana's Legacy Lands project. All of this acreage is surrounded by National Forest lands and was slated for state, private, or federal ownership as requested by the local communities. Prior to conveyance, the lands had been stewarded and managed for sustainable timber harvest and improved fish and wildlife habitat. These lands have high recreational value for Montanans and out of state visitors, and Fish Creeks support the strongest populations of westslope cutthroat and bull trout in the Middle Clark Fork watershed.
A total of 17,640 acres of the purchased land was burned in the Fish Creek and I-90 fires. Many of the drainages within the Fish Creek watershed experienced intense fire severity with little regeneration after more than five years of recovery time. Furthermore, out of the 230 miles of roads on the purchased lands, 50% required some degree of road surface treatment, drainage or other water flow improvement. Fire effects had significantly increased hillslope runoff and road stabilization resulting in erosion problems. Weeds infested virtually every road surface and road side, as well as many mountainsides in the burned areas of the Fish Creek drainage.
Objectives for the project were to improve tributary, riparian and upland habitat at a watershed scale, reduce chronic sediment input and improve fish passage.
Since 2008, TU, Montana Fish, Widlife and Parks and TNC have implemented significant road, culvert and weed control work within the Fish Creek Drainage to improve native fish and wildlife habitat and bring roads to Best Management Practice (BMP) standards. Accomplishments from this collaborative group included decommissioning and seeding approximately 100 miles of logging roads, removing forty large culverts and cross drains, weed treatment along all open road systems and deconstructed roads, and revegetation of more than 20 acres along the mainstem Fish Creek and South Fork Fish Creek corridor.
Surveyor Creek - before
Survey Creek - after
Funding for this large scale project includes more than half a million dollars and came from PPL Montana, The Nature Conservancy, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the Lolo National Forest, and a Mineral County Resource Advisory Council grant. Volunteers from the Westlsope Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the University of Montana and Sierra Club assisted in seeding decommissioned roads, repairing fences and managing weeds.