Reflecting on the Yankee Fork project

Yankee Fork.

Idaho work turns river right side up to help salmon, steelhead and trout

It took a floating dredge just a few years between 1940 and 1952 to turn seven miles of Idaho’s Yankee Fork of the Salmon River upside down. In the 68 years since, there has been almost no natural recovery — the valley remained buried by dredge spoils that confined the river and prevented streamside vegetation from growing.

Rivers are resilient, to be sure, but in places like the Yankee Fork the magnitude of disturbance was so great that the natural processes that created that resiliency were no longer able to function. Enter Trout Unlimited and Project Manager Cassi Wood. She works with a diverse group of partners to rebuild the Yankee Fork Valley, and the river that runs through it. 

Yankee Fork Side Channel Habitat Improvement
Yankee Fork Side Channel Habitat Improvement. Trout Unlimited photo.

The Yankee Fork historically supported robust populations of salmon, steelhead and trout, but mining — and the intensive timber harvest that accompanied it — reduced what once was a complex, meandering river into a virtual flume. That flume constantly flushed gravel, wood and other important building blocks of healthy habitat out of the system. The goal of TU’s work was to restore the natural processes so those building blocks could rebuild and maintain complex and healthy habitat.

To that end, last year we completed the final phase of  restoration work at the Bonanza City project site. This project began in 2018, and ultimately restored just under a mile of the Yankee Fork to more closely resemble its pre-mining condition.

Also make sure to and be on the lookout for the August 12th world premiere of Ocean to Idaho, a Tight Line Media film by Kris Millgate featuring Wood explaining habitat restoration in the Yankee Fork. The premier is taking place in Idaho Falls and Wood will be on hand as part of the launch.

By Warren Colyer.