Northern Idaho’s Yellowdog Creek, impaired for decades by eroding forest road sediment, is coming back to life thanks to the work of local partnership between the U.S. Forest Service, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Several USFS-led watershed restoration projects have stabilized erosion prone areas, helped bring back stream-cooling vegetation and allowed native westslope cutthroat trout to thrive once again, according to Mary Farnsworth, Idaho Panhandle National Forest supervisor. And the watershed restoration efforts also helped to support the local economy by employing local companies to implement stream improvement and road removal projects.
"Our work in Yellowdog Creek is just one of many great examples where restoration is making a difference on our lands and for the local communities that rely on them," said Farnsworth. "In the coming months and years our communities can expect to see more projects that emphasize restoring the health of our treasured National Forests while also creating social and economic benefits for our communities."
Yellowdog Creek is part of the North Fork Coeur d’Alene River system, draining the Coeur d'Alene Mountains of northern Idaho. Most of the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene and its tributaries lie within the Coeur d'Alene National Forest, managed by the USFS. The 7.8-square-mile Yellowdog Creek flows down from the west flank of Idaho's Bitterroot Mountain Range in the northern Rocky Mountains.
Intensive timber harvest and road building occurred through much of the area from 1890 until the early 2000s. Over the years, runoff and floodwaters continued to erode and wash out roads, particularly those near or adjacent to streams. The sediment negatively affected the region’s important fisheries by degrading habitat and suffocating insects and fish eggs.
Stream assessments beginning in the early 1990s told a somber story of an unhealthy stream, choked with sediment and declining populations of insects and fish. To address the stream’s poor health, Idaho DEQ developed a Total Maximum Daily Load or “pollution budget” for Yellowdog Creek and nearby streams. The TMDL helped guide restoration by creating tangible targets for sediment reduction.
The USFS conducted a multi-pronged restoration campaign between 2000 and 2006 aimed at reducing sediment in the stream. A 2009 survey identified diverse aquatic insect communities, and a burgeoning fish population featuring sculpin, westslope cutthroat trout and longnose dace -- all native species that are typically associated with cold, clear and healthy waters. The profound improvement has even allowed Idaho DEQ to propose removal of Yellowdog Creek from the state’s list of sediment impaired waters this year.
Those familiar with the project are crediting sound stream science, a problem-solving attitude and a commitment by all partners to “pull on the rope in the same direction” as the keys to success in Yellowdog Creek, according to an EPA press release. The Idaho DEQ Nonpoint Source Management Program, together with the USFS crafted and launched an ambitious plan that featured numerous restoration projects in the Yellowdog Creek and the adjacent Downey Creek watersheds. For funding, the partners leveraged nearly $1 million in funding from timber sale receipts to fuel watershed restoration in Yellowdog and Downey creeks along the North Fork.
The funding allowed the USFS to implement restoration work throughout the watershed that included rerouting roads to maintain public access while reducing road density in the watershed by 60 percent. Overall 46 miles of roads in the watershed were decommissioned and 111 stream crossings were removed. The most significant improvements occurred in the lower watershed, where USFS removed two miles of road directly adjacent to the stream.
USFS restored the streambanks and riparian areas, placed 765 logs in the channel and used boulders to construct more than 100 pool-forming structures. The structures (1) helped to stabilize the stream by providing additional grade control and (2) created cold-water aquatic life habitat by providing cover (hiding places) and increased channel complexity (different types of habitat in the same area).
“The recovery in Yellowdog Creek demonstrates how a good, coordinated watershed restoration project can bring a degraded mountain stream back to life,” said Kajsa Stromberg, Idaho DEQ watershed coordinator applauds the USFS efforts. “Thanks to the hard work of a lot of folks, especially the North Fork Coeur d’Alene River Watershed Advisory Group, Yellowdog Creek is living proof that recovery is possible.“
Numerous partners participated with USFS in planning and implementation, including the Army Corps of Engineers, Idaho DEQ, Idaho Department of Water Resources, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, North Idaho Fly Casters and the Kootenai Environmental Alliance. USEPA provided funds to monitor stream health and measure the water quality benefits of road improvement projects.
Encouraged by the revival of Yellowdog Creek the USFS and its partners vow to “work their restoration magic” and revitalize many more streams along the North Fork Coeur d’Alene River.
“The U.S. Forest Service and Idaho DEQ deserve a lot of credit for their vision, leadership and years of hard work,” said Don Martin, EPA senior natural resource adviser. “By restoring Yellowdog Creek, an important tributary, they are helping the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene run clean, cold and healthy.”
For additional information about the success in Yellowdog Creek, visit http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/success319/id_yellowdog.cfm.
For additional information about watersheds, visit: http://go.usa.gov/aPx