Large-scale partnership project to restore Lower Swift Creek begins in Star Valley

Historic willow removal, water withdrawal and upstream channel manipulations have resulted in extreme bank instability and areas of excessive erosion and deposition on Lower Swift Creek. Trout Unlimited photo.

November 9, 2020


Leslie Steen, NW Wyoming Program Director, Trout Unlimited, 307-699-1022,

Kay Lynn Nield, District Manager, Star Valley Conservation District, 307-884-7119,

Adam Clark, District Conservationist, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, 307-226-3037,

Anna Senecal, Aquatic Habitat Biologist, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, 307-733-2321,

Dave Kimble, SW Wyoming Partners for Fish & Wildlife Program, 307-413-7089,

JACKSON, Wyoming – Trout Unlimited (TU), Star Valley Conservation District (SVCD), USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program announced today that the Lower Swift Creek Stream Restoration and Stabilization Project is currently underway. Located just outside of Afton, Wyoming, the project seeks to protect and improve spawning cutthroat trout habitat in lower Swift Creek, reduce sediment contributions to the Salt River, and reduce landowner flood risk and maintenance requirements. Construction began the last week of October and will continue into the fall and early winter, depending on weather conditions.

The Lower Swift Creek Stream Restoration and Stabilization Project focuses on a mile of lower Swift Creek near its confluence with the Salt River. The lower half of the project area provides year-round water and important spawning habitat for native Snake River cutthroat trout and brown trout. “The Salt River supports an amazing, intact, and wild fishery which is not dependent upon hatchery stock. Because of this, careful maintenance of naturally-limited spawning habitats is vital to maintaining these fisheries for future generations,” said Anna Senecal, WGFD aquatic habitat biologist.  

Swift Creek has been impacted by a variety of historic human land uses, which together have contributed to bank and channel instability, land loss, and degraded trout habitat in its lower reaches, and sedimentation that impacts the Salt River. Private landowners approached conservation partners several years ago, concerned that the erosion and channel movement of Swift Creek would form a new confluence with the Salt River. This would have resulted in a large sediment release and the loss of about 800 feet of valuable trout spawning habitat in Swift Creek important to the Salt River fishery.

Project partners have been working with local landowners in lower Swift Creek, including Lincoln County, on a plan to address these issues, which have resulted in loss of pasture, flooding, and difficulty maintaining agricultural activities. The project design, which is based on natural channel design techniques by a stream restoration engineer, will stabilize the channel in-place in the upstream, seasonally-dry reach; realign the channel through existing riparian vegetation (cottonwoods and willows) where possible; create a new, non-incised channel in the downstream reach; and fence sensitive riparian areas. Instream structures will include bioengineered bank treatments such as toewood, rock toe, and soil lifts, grade control structures such as rock weirs, and riffle and pool sequencing designed to meet the hydrologic conditions of the stream. 

“Working with the ag producers on this project and seeing their commitment to improve natural resources along Swift Creek has been great,” said Ada Clark, NRCS district conservationist in Afton. “Stream projects are complex and take time. The landowners have been flexible and willing to continue to work with us to improve the stream.”

Together, these treatments are expected to restore fish habitat, stream function, bank stability, and riparian vegetation on lower Swift Creek. Treatments are also expected to reduce sediment contributions from bank erosion by 64%, equivalent to over 150 dump trucks of sediment per year. 

Project partners believe that it will be a good model for addressing similar issues in the upper Salt River in the future. “We are excited to be able to showcase these best practices, with an eye towards working with other landowners in Star Valley on similar projects that will also benefit agricultural operations and fisheries,” said Kay Lynn Nield, SVCD manager. 

Partnerships have been a critical component of the project, which has a budget of over $1.1 million in financial and in-kind support from partners. Grants for the project were received from the Bureau of Land Management, Jackson Hole Trout Unlimited, Jackson Hole One Fly, Natural Resources Conservation Service EQIP, Star Valley Conservation District, Trout Unlimited, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Water for Wildlife Foundation, Wyoming Association of Commissioners, Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, Wyoming Governor’s Big Game License Coalition, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Landscape Conservation Initiative, Wyoming Natural Resource Foundation, Wyoming Water Development Commission, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust, and private donors. 

“On a project of this size, it takes a lot of partners to make the project possible. Each partner may have been drawn to the project for different reasons, be it fisheries, wildlife, agriculture, or water quality. At the end of the day, we are grateful for the opportunity to work together with landowners and partners to improve all these natural resources in the Salt River watershed,” said Leslie Steen, TU NW Wyoming program director.

The project has also included significant in-kind and technical support from partners. One of the larger expenses associated with the project include sourcing materials such as large boulders and trees with rootwads for instream structures. When one source of donated rock fell through, Itafos Conda Phosphate Operations in Conda, ID stepped up to provide several thousand tons of rock, a cost savings of over $50,000 to the project. The Bridger-Teton National Forest also provided hundreds of trees for the effort from the Tribasin Divide area, after having set them aside for future stream restoration work when preparing roads for an ongoing timber sale. The University of Wyoming Extension office will be helping with the project’s revegetation and reseeding efforts. Technical support in the form of project administration, management, review, monitoring, and permitting has been contributed by the NRCS, SVCD, TU, WGFD, and USFWS. 

The project will be constructed by heavy equipment operators experienced in stream restoration work and will most likely be completed by summer 2021. Volunteers from local TU chapters and businesses will assist with the restoration effort as it progresses. Interested participants can contact the project contacts above for more information. The Lower Swift Creek Stream Restoration and Stabilization 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.  

About Trout Unlimited
Today, Trout Unlimited is a national organization with more than 155,000 volunteers organized into 400 chapters nationwide. These dedicated volunteers are paired with a respected staff of organizers, lawyers, policy experts and scientists, who work out of more than 30 offices. Our mission is to conserve, protect and restore North America’s cold-water fisheries and their watersheds. Follow TU on Facebook and Twitter, and follow our blog for all the latest information on trout and salmon conservation.

About the Natural Resources Conservation Service

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides America’s farmers and ranchers with financial and technical assistance to voluntarily put conservation on the ground, helping the environment and agricultural operations. NRCS delivers conservation solutions to help agricultural producers protect natural resources and feed a growing world. Learn more about NRCS here.

The USDA is an Equal Opportunity Provider, Employer and Lender. Mention of names or commercial products in this document does not imply recommendation or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

About the Star Valley Conservation District

It is the mission of Star Valley Conservation District to pursue the conservation, wise use, and protection of our natural resources and encourage Star Valley residents to do the same to preserve our quality of life. 

About the Wyoming Game and Fish Department
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department manages and conserves more than 800 species of fish and wildlife across Wyoming.  For nearly 120 years, we’ve carried out our mission to conserve wildlife and serve people. Through these efforts, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department ensures the public continues to enjoy Wyoming’s vast fish and wildlife resource through hunting, fishing, trapping, wildlife watching and other forms of outdoor recreation. Hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers contribute over a billion dollars to Wyoming’s economy each year.  

About the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program

The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program provides technical and financial assistance to landowners interested in restoring and enhancing wildlife habitat on their land. Projects are custom-designed to meet landowners’ needs. Since the program’s start in 1987, some 50,000 landowners have worked with Partners staff to complete 60,000 habitat restoration projects on 6 million acres.