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, in agency offices, and across the border. The upcoming years will be a busy 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. Be sure to visit the Headwaters InfoCenter, which houses the data collected within the Yaak watershed and allows land managers and conservationists to access and analyze the data with a live mapping tool.
Research and Restoration
To address sediment load from road run off, our crew started small with a couple of culvert replacements in Redband trout habitat. This has led us to years of successful collaborative work with the US Forest Service, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks along with other local agencies on the Kootenai National Forest. In addition to 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-motorized 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 over time. The data collected by the Headwaters crew may hold answers to the long-term health of local watersheds.
Native Fish Habitat
Healthy streams and associated streamside riparian areas are important assets that provide not only high-quality fish habitat but also dependable sources of clean water. Our work goes further than addressing sediment load in local streams, we work to increase the long-term viability of fish populations and to restore the health, integrity and productivity of the Yaak River and streams within the Yaak watershed.
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. During the 2017 field season the YCFC field crew completed the second year of a photo-documentation program, currently surveying 14 sites to document revegetation at newly restored stream crossings. The newly restored stream crossings add vital habitat and resiliency for our native fish populations.
[link to the plan here]
Private Land Restoration
In the summers of 2015 and 2016, the YVFC field crew performed bank stability surveys on the Yaak River, using a bank erosion hazard index [BEHI] to assess the severity of bank erosion. Starting this year, the YVFC has started using the BEHI data collected to contact landowners and work with them to secure funding for restoration projects on private land. Our land restoration work has brought over a million dollars of habitat restoration funding into Lincoln County, most of which is paid to residents who have been trained by project partners to do the fieldwork to accomplish restoration goals.
The YVFC field crew has been working to remove Canada Thistle, Hawkweed, Knapweed, Oxeye Daisy, and St. John’s Wort from 6 acres of streamside land. Noxious weeds are treated by using only non-toxic methods, like vinegar-based spray, hand pulling, native grass seed planting, etc. Currently 4 different sites have been treated with these methods: two along the main stem of the Yaak River, one on the South Fork Yaak, and one along Blacktail Creek. These are places where the spread of seed by recreationists, wind, and wildlife is eliminated while water and fish are protected from toxic chemicals.