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The Bitterroot River drains 2,889 square miles in the Bitterroot and Sapphire mountain ranges in southwestern Montana. Native bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout evolved here and continue to live in the river system, but it's wild rainbow and brown trout that now share most of the rivers and streams in the Bitterroot system. One of the most popular fishing destinations in Montana, the Bitterroot regularly logs more angler days than any other river in the western half of the state. However, agriculture, grazing, logging, and urban development have taken a toll on the natural resources of this watershed and the ecological conditions that once supported thriving fish populations are declining. Trout Unlimited is working to re-establish historical migration corridors between important habitats and restore stream and riparian conditions to benefit native and wild trout and increase population numbers and river health.
In spring 2011, TU began a campaign on the Bitterroot to repair water quality, streamflow, fish passage and habitat problems. Together, with agency and private landowner partners, we are continuing that work by removing old roads and culverts in the headwater areas and we’re restoring degraded streams in the valley by moving migration barriers so that these waters are once again fishable. These measures will ensure that the unique and valuable Bitterroot trout populations survive for future generations of anglers to enjoy.
In 2012, TU staff and volunteers worked together to install fencing along a critical one-mile reach of Burnt Fork Creek which keeps cattle out of the stream and we've planted 1,000 trees and shrubs along the stream corridor. This success was the first step in a larger effort to reconnect the Burnt Fork to the Bitterroot by restoring its historic stream channel—a critical migration corridor for native fish that has not functioned effectively since the mid-1960s.
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