Bull Trout project in Big Creek drainage; public feedback requested

Bull Trout - Joel Sartore/National Geographic Stock with Wade Fredenberg/USFWS
Bull Trout – Joel Sartore/National Geographic Stock with Wade Fredenberg/USFWS

Rob Davies, the Hungry Horse/Glacier View district ranger, is asking for public feedback on a small, low-impact project in the Big Creek drainage to improve conditions for Bull Trout.  If possible, they’d really like to get this accomplished in April, before the stream flows really get going. This means they are looking for public comments by March 30.

Here’s what Rob had to say in his email (lightly edited), followed by the full text of the project letter . . .

We will be issuing a NEPA decision for a small simple project that was presented at the Inter-local Meeting last February.

We would like to know if anyone has concerns or wishes to provide comments on this project…

Essentially the State and the Forest Service wants to breach a log jam, and several small beaver dams where migrating bull trout were blocked from upstream movement to their normal spawning area (last fall). The work would be accomplished using a Spider Backhoe…… if you never have seen this type of heavy equipment it is really interesting…….. it’s essentially a small excavator but instead of using steel tracks, it moves on 4 robotic-like legs so that soil and vegetation disturbance is very minimal.

We would like to complete this work before peak runoff occurs this spring so natural flows will help scour and maintain the channel. Normally bull trout projects never remove or disturb large wood in streams but in this case, the Flathead bull trout populations are so depressed from other Flathead Lake issues…… doing all that we can to assure spawning success is important.

Please provide comments, by email, in writing, or by phone no later than March 30th, 2016.

Rob’s contact information:

Rob Davies , District Ranger
Flathead National Forest
Hungry Horse – Glacier View Ranger Districts
PO Box 190340
Hungry Horse, MT, MT 59919
Phone: 406-387-3801
Email: rdavies@fs.fed.us

Here is the full text of the letter describing the project. you can also download or view the letter in PDF format.


File code: 2670
Date: March 16, 2016

Dear Interested Party,

The Flathead National Forest, Hungry Horse-Glacier Ranger District is seeking input on a proposal in cooperation with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to provide upstream passage for bull trout to historic spawning reaches in Big Creek.

Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks has requested to open a log jam that has formed in Big Creek since the 2001 Moose fire. The log jam is about 2 miles below the Skookoleel Bridge in sect. 25, T33N, R21W. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks conducts bull trout redd counts in Big Creek annually since 1981 with counts starting at the Skookoleel Bridge and continuing upstream. In 2015, no redds were found in sections of Big Creek and Hallowat Creek where redds have historically been located. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks then looked downstream and found 22 bull trout redds located below the log jam.

There is a beaver complex with a lodge and side channels at the location of the jam. The beavers have been successful in using the log jam to basically “putty’ it tight in that no bull trout can make it upstream. Typically, bull trout have no problems making it upstream through log jams or over beaver dams but do to the size of this jam and the reinforcement by beavers no bull trout were able to make it upstream.

Removing wood from streams is not a common practice, however, we feel that it necessary in this situation because bull trout are migratory and there are no resident populations upstream unlike resident westslope cutthroat trout. Without passage, the numbers of bull trout would decline because adult bull trout would not be able to reach their spawning grounds. This decline would persist until the dam/log jam fails which has undoubtedly happened over the last 10,000 years. It is a natural process. What is not a natural process or has not happened over the last 10,000 years but the last 25 years is competition/predation by lake trout in Flathead Lake. There is concern that if the local population of bull trout in Big Creek is lost the re-colonization that has occurred in the past would be less likely to occur because of a depressed local population. It is paramount to attempt to get as many juveniles returning to Flathead Lake so that adults may return to spawn in Big Creek.

The plan is to notch the log jam this May with a spider backhoe which is expected to reduce soil disturbance compared to traditional tracked equipment and then use the spring flows to help remove bedload behind it. This would re-establish passage in the main channel. The beaver complex in the north channel which is a shallow overflow channel in the floodplain would be left intact. We feel that this provides fish passage while leaving the beaver complex intact. It is possible that beavers could re-establish the dam in the log jam however, with increased stream velocities it will be difficult for beavers to get a dam built in this location. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks would monitor passage throughout the summer and early fall and remove any dam that beavers might try to re-establish.

To provide comments, or if you have questions or concerns, please contact me at 406-387-3801 or rdavies@fs.fed.us by Wednesday, March 30, 2016. I appreciate your input on this proposal.


Robert Davies.
District Ranger