In April 2016, Trout Unlimited – along with a diverse group of community, landowner, and agency partners – launched an ambitious new initiative to restore and protect the headwaters and fishery of the upper Snake River in Wyoming. The Snake River Headwaters Home Rivers Initiative will leverage the capacity of the active Jackson Hole TU chapter and engaged membership in and around Jackson Hole by working with partners to develop and implement high-priority reconnection and restoration projects to benefit native trout and their habitats.
The Snake River Headwaters program area, which includes the main stem of the Snake River and its tributaries ranging from Yellowstone National Park in the north to Star Valley in the south, is home to a unique mix of native Snake River fine spotted and Yellowstone cutthroat trout – both Wyoming Game and Fish Department Species of Greatest Conservation Need. The Snake River Headwaters HRI was launched out of recognition that while the Snake and its tributaries around Jackson Hole are keystones in one of the most iconic landscapes in the world, and enjoy many protections because of the large amount of public and protected lands within their watersheds, human activities and development continue to impact hydrologic function, stream habitat and native fish populations.
Few western rivers enjoy a backdrop as unique and spectacular as the upper Snake River in western Wyoming. Originating near the northern boundary of Grand Teton National Park, the system of headwater streams and rivers that creates the Snake —eventually the largest tributary to the Columbia River— lies at the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest intact functioning ecosystem in the United States outside of Alaska. Undoubtedly, the Snake and its tributaries around Jackson Hole and the native fish populations they support are keystones in one of the most iconic landscapes in the world. The native Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout in particular is the only subspecies of cutthroat trout that still dominates in its home range – which is why it is so important to conserve this unique, wild fishery and the ecosystem that depends on it.
The Snake River Headwaters encompass portions of the Gros Ventre and Teton Wilderness areas and Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. It is also home to roadless areas, wilderness study areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and other types of protective land management designations. Despite these protections, however, human activities and development continue to impact hydrologic function, stream habitat and native fish populations – impairments such as the levee system along the mainstem of the Snake River that channelizes the river, disconnects it from its floodplain, and negatively impacts spring creeks and cottonwood ecosystems; diversions that dewater stream reaches, block migrations, and entrain fish; habitat that has been degraded as a result of land management practices; and impaired water quality. If environmental disturbances increase in frequency and magnitude in the coming decades as predicted, these altered habitats will be less able to resist and/or rebound. We believe that the restoration of habitat and migration corridors in the Snake Headwaters presents an excellent return on investment right now, because it is much more cost effective to protect and restore relatively intact habitat before it is degraded to the point where fish populations are threatened. By investing in habitat, we can ensure the persistence of native cutthroat trout in this unique place well into the future. To protect this incredible resource, Trout Unlimited has launched the Snake River Headwaters Home Rivers Initiative – an ambitious new effort to restore and protect the headwaters of the upper Snake River and its fishery. Together with a diverse group of community and agency partners, the new initiative seeks to develop and implement high-priority restoration projects to benefit native trout and their habitats.
TU’s approach to coldwater fisheries conservation is a tested and proven formula that is already getting results in the Snake River headwaters. Our tactics for accomplishing more reconnection and restoration projects at an accelerated pace include:
- Reconnecting native trout spawning and rearing habitat by installing fish screens and removing fish barriers.
- Restoring water quality, trout habitat, and healthy stream conditions by improving water use efficiencies and restoring streamflows.
- Educating 400 local students about the watershed through the Adopt-a-Trout Program to motivate the next generation of conservation stewards.
- Developing a conservation strategy for the Upper Snake River and its tributaries with stakeholders and partners in the watershed to prioritize future projects, outreach and education efforts.
The Snake River Headwaters Home Rivers Initiative was launched as a result of the generous support of a $100,000 grant from the Jackson Hole TU Chapter and matching gifts from donors in the Jackson community. Since our launch, we have worked with partners to identify, develop and prioritize project opportunities, and have completed five projects and have seven active projects underway. We’ve walked along streams with partners, had coffee with landowners, wadered up for fieldwork, given presentations to grants committees and community members, participated in an election-year forum on water resources, coordinated fish salvages, and tapped the incredible resources of TU staff, Jackson Hole chapter board, volunteers, and members in the state and region. The excitement and momentum of the Home Rivers Initiative continues to build and new opportunities for projects continue to arise.
For more information about the Snake River Headwaters HRI projects, visit the Story Map website for the Initiative.
Snake River Headwaters Home Rivers Initiative Project Manager
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