Improving Habitat in a Great Basin Oasis

Fed from the jagged peaks of the Sierras on the eastern border of Yosemite, the East Walker River flows through two states and numerous different ecosystems before meeting its terminus in Walker Lake. Within the newly established Walker River State Recreation Area (WRSRA) in Nevada, it provides an oasis in the harsh high desert for numerous species including mule deer, bighorn sheep and trophy brown trout.

East Walker River trophy brown trout

The creation of the WRSRA in 2018 resulted from the donation of several historic ranches from the Walker Basin Conservancy to the Nevada Division of State Lands. This land transfer opened up 29 river miles to public access, state management and opportunities to partner in restoration.

In 2019, the Inland Trout Program of Trout Unlimited set out to improve and restore fish habitat near “the Elbow”, a renowned fishing access area included in the new state park. Utilizing both biogenic floodplain features and rock j-hook structures, the project sought to provide structure and redirect flow on a stretch of the East Walker perilously close to the access road.

Biogenic habitat features

Utilizing a blend of low-tech, process-based restoration and rock armoring techniques utilized by TU in the Truckee watershed, these improvements sought to reconnect portions of the floodplain, control erosion, provide sediment scour within the stream, and create refugia for aquatic species.

With funding from Patagonia, the Nevada Department of Wildlife, the Sagebrush Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and Kinross Gold, construction took place between 2022 and 2023. In September of 2023, construction of the project was completed with the installation of the armored J-hook structures.

Before construction
J-hook structure

Not only do the structures provide benefits for trout, but they also provide convenient access for fisheries sampling. In November, TU staff assisted the Nevada Department of Wildlife with their annual East Walker fish surveys. Two of the included sampling transects were within the project area and electrofishing revealed incredible numbers of fish living in and around the newly constructed features. These transects will be repeated on a yearly basis to give valuable insight on the long-term effectiveness of the habitat improvement project.

Fish counting time lapse

Trout Unlimited is excited for the future of the Walker River State Recreation Area. With new public access and a host of state, private and NGO partners, this Great Basin oasis promises high quality fishing opportunities for years to come.

Post construction surveys