JACKSON, Wyoming – Trout Unlimited (TU) and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) are excited to announce that the River Bend Ranch Fish Passage and Irrigation Improvement Project is currently underway and is expected to be completed by the end of November 2018. The collaborative project seeks to improve habitat and passage for Snake River cutthroat trout, irrigation infrastructure, bank and channel stability, and sediment transport on the Upper Hoback River outside of Bondurant, Wyoming.
The project area is located on the River Bend Ranch and adjacent Bridger-Teton National Forest lands. The River Bend Ranch is a working cattle ranch protected by a Jackson Hole Land Trust conservation easement and is the site of the WGFD’s McNeel elk feedground. The Hoback River, a major tributary of the Snake River with 53 stream miles within the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System and a wild, native, genetically pure Snake River cutthroat trout fishery, flows through the ranch.
“The Upper Hoback provides important habitat for Snake River cutthroat trout to spawn, rear and overwinter. Maintaining high quality habitats through reducing erosion and bed impaction that come hand in hand with gravel push-up dam maintenance are key to the species’ persistence in the drainage,” said Anna Senecal, WGFD Aquatic Habitat Biologist.
The project seeks to address the impacts of two gravel push-up dams through several irrigation system improvements. Push-up dams divert water through the use of excavators to build up native substrate in the stream bed, impacting stream stability and bank erosion. In addition, they degrade habitat for native fish and have the potential to impede fish passage seasonally and during low water years. Through the project, the ranch’s two push-up dams will be replaced by a single, consolidated fish passage-friendly rock diversion and headgate structure at a stable location, accompanied by on-field improvements to the irrigation system.
“It’s going to make our irrigation a lot more manageable and more efficient because we won’t have to get into the river anymore to regulate water with our equipment – that was always the hard thing, and we either had too much water or too little. So we really want to thank everyone that was involved and thank Gil Ordway [landowner] for letting us proceed with the project and enabling us to do the right thing for the fish and wildlife” said Tony and Bill Saunders, River Bend Ranch managers.
Pre-project fish monitoring documented very low densities of trout in the project area, compared with areas upstream and downstream that are known to provide good quality habitat. Improving habitat quality on about 2.5 miles of the Hoback River on the River Bend Ranch property will also benefit the public fishery by increasing spawning activity and reducing erosion so that less sediment is carried downstream and deposited on redds or in pools. In addition, the installation of the fish passage-friendly diversion structure will ensure that the upper reaches of the Hoback River, upstream of the project area, will be more accessible to migratory native cutthroat trout.
“We see this project as a win-win for fish and ranching, and the kind of collaboration that we hope to continue to foster in the upper Snake River watershed. Replacing these gravel push-up dams with a fish-friendly diversion structure will be just as beneficial for the trout as it is for the irrigators. We are grateful to the Ordway and Saunders families for being willing to work with us, and all of our partners for making this project possible,” said Leslie Steen, TU Snake River Headwaters Project Manager.
The River Bend Ranch Fish Passage and Irrigation Improvement Project received funding and in-kind support from the Bridger-Teton National Forest, Jackson Hole Trout Unlimited chapter, River Bend Ranch, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Sublette County Conservation District, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative, Wyoming Water Development Commission, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The River Bend Ranch Fish Passage and Irrigation Improvement Project is a project of TU’s Snake River Headwaters Home Rivers Initiative, an ambitious initiative to restore and protect the headwaters of the Snake River and its fishery, together with a diverse group of community, landowner, and agency partners.
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