The Headwaters Restoration Partnership Project (HRRP) began in 1999 as a rehabilitation and restoration project with the goal of improving habitat for native fish species . Yaak Valley Forest Council has been working with the state and federal agencies that manage areas within the headwaters of the Yaak River while implementing restoration projects.
HRRP works on many fronts: In the field, the agency offices, and across the border. 2016 will be a busy year for the partnership, with our crew working on multiple projects throughout the Three Rivers District of the Kootenai National Forest. As we work to enhance and preserve the Yaak’s precious aquatic resources, our partnership and cooperation with the agencies and the community grows stronger every year.
As the Headwaters Partnership focus on fish and fish habitat continues, we also take steps to expand the effectiveness of the program. We are 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.
Research and Restoration
In order to address sediment load from road run off, our crew started small with a couple of culvert replacements in Redband habitat. This has led us to years of successful collaborative work with the US Forest Service on Kootenai National Forest and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, along with other local agencies. As well as continued work clearing culverts, we have embarked on a sediment source survey which has evolved into a database that has allowed analysis of available data and is a key restoration planning tool for the headwaters of the Yaak River.
Our crew has surveyed over six hundred miles of streams in the Yaak watershed, implementing road decommissioning and creating and improving non-motorised trails along the way. 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. The data collected by the Headwaters crew over time may hold answers to the long term health of local watersheds.
Native Fish Habitat
Our work goes further than addressing sediment load in local streams. We have been active in preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species in Lincoln County, and catalogued all man-made and natural barriers to fish migration in the area. We utilize eDNA surveys to test for the presence of native trout WestSlope Cutthroat and Redband Rainbow in isolated streams. The results reveal if introduced trout species such as Brook or Brown trout have entered an area. Steps can then be taken to ensure wild strains of trout can be protected.
In 2015, we partnered with In Roads Consulting, Kootenai National Forest, and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks and Kootenai River Network to write a watershed restoration plan for the Kootenai River in Montana. The plan was approved by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the Hawkins Creek Stewardship group and the Yellowstone to Yukon conservation Initiative.
[link to the plan here]
Private Land Restoration
Our land restoration work has brought a million dollars of habitat restoration funding into Lincoln County, most of which is paid to local residents who have been trained by project partners to do the fieldwork to accomplish the restoration goals. In the summers of 2015 and 2016, the crew performed bank stability surveys on the Yaak River, using a bank erosion hazard index [BEHI] to assess the severity of bank erosion and will use the data collected to contact landowners and work with them to secure funding for restoration projects.
The crew have recently managed three sites along the Yaak River and South Fork Yaak River for weed abatement, a total of five and a half acres. Our strategies include hand pulling noxious weeds such as Spotted Knapweed and Hawkweed. We also use a non toxic herbicide made from vinegar, epsom salts and soap. This non chemical treatment is safe for waterways.