Strengthening the Snake: Collaborative Snake River Ranch Project Aims to Enhance Native Trout Habitat and Bank Stability

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Strengthening the Snake: Collaborative Snake River Ranch Project Aims to Enhance Native Trout Habitat and Bank Stability

Teton County, October 25, 2023 – The Snake River, a vital lifeline coursing through the heart of Teton County, is facing dynamic challenges that demand innovative solutions. The river’s mainstem faces fluctuating flows ranging from 280 up to 30,000 cfs in a single season, combined with human-driven changes that together result in riverbank erosion and land loss, as well as degraded habitat for native Snake River cutthroat trout.

Recognizing the need for collaborative projects that meet multiple resource protection goals and the value of private-public partnerships, Trout Unlimited (TU), the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), Teton Conservation District (TCD), and the Snake River Ranch are teaming up to stabilize approximately 1,000 feet of heavily eroding bank along the Snake River mainstem and another 800 feet along one of its side channels. The project, which is already undergoing construction, is located on the Lower Snake River Ranch, approximately 9 miles south of Wilson, WY in Teton County, along the “Wilson to South Park” river segment.

The project will create riparian buffers to enhance fish habitat and stabilize eroding banks, while ensuring the working cattle ranch can continue to thrive. The project uses innovative bioengineered bank stabilizing techniques to encourage new and mature vegetation growth. Additionally, large wood habitat structures will be installed in multiple locations along the mainstem and side channel to maintain pools, create hydraulic complexity, and provide cover.

“The brush bank structures will create habitat complexity for trout and allow for the river’s energy to be absorbed by the bank. Increasing floodplain roughness will promote natural processes that trap seeds, retain moisture, and promote the natural recruitment of riparian vegetation,” said Holden Reinert, Aquatic Habitat Biologist at Wyoming Game and Fish.

These restoration strategies mimic natural processes, resulting in increased climate change and high-flow resiliency for years to come, while also preventing further land loss at the lower Snake River Ranch.

Over the years, the ranch has been gradually losing acres of land along this section of the Snake River,” said Turner Resor of Snake River Ranch. “Partnering with Trout Unlimited has allowed the ranch to implement a solution to a problem that may have otherwise gone unaddressed given the project’s cost and scope. While our initial interest in the project relates to the land side of the equation, we are also happy to see a design that will be a benefit to the Snake River fishery.”

“This project is a win-win for agriculture and natural resources, and a good fit for support from multiple partners,” said David Lee, Water Resources Specialist for Teton Conservation District. “The Lower Snake River Ranch is well-suited to use natural bioengineering techniques that stabilize banks and allow floodplain inundation, and this project will serve as an example of the benefits of these techniques going forward.”

The benefits of this project extend far beyond reducing streambank erosion and sedimentation. The project will strengthen Snake River cutthroat trout populations by promoting holding, cover, and juvenile rearing habitat for this wild, native species.

Collaboration is at the heart of this work, with project partners and community members pooling their expertise and resources to enhance the Snake River and its native species.

“We are so grateful to all the partners, volunteers, and businesses that came together to help make this project happen for the benefit of the Snake River and its incredible native fishery. A big part of the project was sourcing the large numbers of trees, brush, and willows to build the bioengineered banks. We could not have pulled it off without help from the trails crew at Snow King Mountain, local loggers and arborists, the Snake River Ranch, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Bridger-Teton National Forest, Jackson Hole TU volunteers, local youth, and the Camina Conmigo group to help us amass these materials,” said Leslie Steen, Wyoming State Director for Trout Unlimited.

The Lower Snake River Ranch Stabilization and Fish Habitat Project would not be possible without support from Jackson Hole One Fly, Jackson Hole Trout Unlimited, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Snake River Ranch, Teton Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited Embrace-A-Stream, Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Wyoming Water and Development Commission, Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resources Trust, and Snow King Mountain. It is a project of TU’s Snake River Headwaters 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.