Headwaters Restoration

The Yaak Valley Forest Council began the Headwaters Restoration Partnership in 1999 as a rehabilitation and restoration project to improve habitat for native fish species in the Yaak River watershed. Over twenty years later, our Headwaters Program has expanded to include Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) testing and prevention, non-invasive genetic testing for fish species distributions, weed abatement and noxious weed removal along the Yaak River, large-scale road decommission and road-to-trail conversions, water quality monitoring of the Yaak River watershed, and sediment source identification and removal.

As we work to enhance and preserve the Yaak’s precious aquatic resources, our partnership with federal and state agencies and the greater Yaak Valley community grows stronger every year. Our project partners include the U.S. Forest Service, Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, other local conservation groups, local businesses, and volunteers passionate about protecting and preserving native fish habitat in the wild Yaak.

We are taking steps to expand the effectiveness of the program., working to bring our efforts across the border into the British Columbia portion of the Yaak. The main stem of the river originates in Canada (as the Yahk River) and the West Fork starts in the U.S., flows into Canada, and then flows south again across the border. Working with conservation groups and ministry biologists north of the border is a priority. We need to make sure that our efforts are duplicated in Canada so that the river is preserved and restored for future generations.

Yaak Online Database

Be sure to visit the Headwaters Partnership Database where land managers, conservationists, and the public can openly access, download, and use a live-mapping tool to view our long-term sediment source inventory database.


Research and Restoration

To address sediment loading from road runoff, the Yaak Valley Forest Council’s initial efforts in culvert replacement within Columbia River redband trout habitat have since expanded to years of successful and ongoing collaborative field monitoring and habitat restoration. 

 We conduct sediment source surveys to identify, remove, or restore roads and trails that are rapidly eroding and releasing harmful levels of sediment into the Yaak River watershed. Sediment overload damages native fish habitat in the Yaak and threatens species of concern in Montana such as bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout, and Columbia River redband trout. Our work directly improves  watershed conditions to support healthy native trout populations.

Our Headwaters field crew has surveyed over six hundred miles of streams in the Yaak River watershed, decommissioned roads, and converted roadways into maintained scenictrails. As we strive to find solutions for sustainable native fish habitat, we have installed eighteen stream temperature monitors in key Yaak streams to measure changes in water temperature over time. The data collected by the Headwaters crew may hold answers to the long-term health of local watersheds during a time of rapid climate change.

Water Quality Testing

Native Fish Habitat

The Yaak Valley Forest Council believes healthy streams and streamside riparian areas are important assets that provide high-quality fish habitat and a reliable source of clean water. We work to increase the long-term viability of local fish populations and to restore the health, integrity, and productivity of the streams and tributaries within the Yaak River watershed.

The Yaak Valley acts as a refuge for native trout species, and past testing shows that the Yaak River watershed holds genetically pure populations of westslope cutthroat and Columbia River redband trout. We will gather data on trout species distributions through non-invasive  genetic testing. Identifying these populations and working to preserve and protect them will help ensure species survival and aid future conservation efforts to repopulate other areas where these species are threatened.   

We are active in testing for and preventing the spread of AIS in Lincoln County and cataloging all man-made and natural barriers to fish migration in the area. Our field crews also conduct photo-documentation of revegetation at newly restored stream crossings throughout the Yaak. The newly restored stream crossings add vital habitat and resiliency to the wild Yaak’s native fish populations.

Private Land Restoration

The Yaak Valley Forest Council has performed bank stability surveys on the Yaak River, using a Bank Erosion Hazard Index (BEHI) to assess the severity of erosion and identify areas in danger of collapse. We are using the BEHI data collected to contact landowners and work with them to secure funding for restoration projects on private land.

These private-land owner partnerships have brought over a million dollars of habitat restoration funding into Lincoln County. The majority of funding pays residents who have been trained by our project partners to conduct fieldwork and accomplish restoration goals in the Yaak River watershed.

For more information contact Anthony South – anthony@yaakvalley.org.



The Yaak Valley Forest Council conducts weed abatement in the Yaak River watershed. Our field crews work to remove invasive and noxious weeds such as Canada Thistle, Hawkweed, Knapweed, Oxeye Daisy, and St. John’s Wort, using only  non-toxic methods including vinegar-based spray, hand pulling, and native grass seed planting.

Our main weed abatement sites are located where weeds are widespread and their introduction can be attributed to human disturbance.  We eliminate these noxious weeds while protecting native fish and the wild Yaak’s pristine headwaters from toxic chemicals.