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Restoration at Yankee Fork Resumes

by Greg Moore
Idaho Mountain Express, July 15, 2015

Intent of project is to improve fish habitat

The Yankee Fork of the Salmon River was greatly altered by a dredging operation that literally turned the valley upside down. Efforts to restore fish habitat in the Yankee Fork basin, part of a multi-million-dollar series of projects over seven years, are again under way this summer in the Salmon River tributary east of Stanley.

The projects are intended mainly to repair damage done by years of dredge mining, which created piles of rock tailings and stagnant ponds along more than five miles of the river during the 1940s and early 1950s. The collaborative effort involves the Salmon-Challis National Forest, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, Trout Unlimited, the Bonneville Power Administration and the J.R. Simplot Co., which now owns mining claims on the dredged area.

According to a news release from the Salmon-Challis National Forest, the projects are expected to significantly improve habitat for Chinook salmon, steelhead, cutthroat trout and other species of fish.

Bart Gamett, a fish biologist with the Forest Service, said the effort began in 2010 with an assessment of the river, and work got under way in 2012 to channelize some of the ponds along the east side of the Yankee Fork Road near Crealey Creek, about two miles downstream from Bonanza, and create a more natural floodplain.

"We've been amazed at the large numbers of spawning steelhead and juvenile fish that are using the new habitat created by this project," Gamett said.

This summer, crews are putting logs in that stretch of the river and modifying the channel in two locations to make it more closely resemble natural conditions.

"In these mountain streams, large wood historically played a really important role in the development of fish habitat," Gamett said.

According to a news release from the Forest Service, over the past 150 years, timber harvesting, mining, road construction and fire suppression have caused large wood abundance in the river to drop far below natural levels.

Gamett said that on Friday, workers saw small fish hiding under logs within an hour after they were placed in the river.

A project done in 2014 and 2015 added 730 trees to the stream channel from the confluence with Jordan Creek, which is just upstream from the old town of Bonanza, upstream to Eightmile Creek, a distance of about eight miles.

A second project this summer is taking place at the confluence of the West Fork near Bonanza. Gamett said miners relocated that stretch of the river and trapped it between a hillside and tailings piles. He said the project, which began in 2015 and will continue through 2017, is moving the channel back to its original location and adding wood.

According to a Forest Service news release, visitors to the Yankee Fork this summer and fall may encounter personnel, heavy equipment and helicopters working on these projects. Visitors should be aware of the following:

Gamett said restoration of the entire dredged area is unlikely given that it would probably cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

"Even if it were possible, there's a need to leave at least some of those tailings intact as part of that region's history," he said.

For additional information, contact Gamett at 208-588-3420.

Related Pages:
Restoration at Yankee Fork Resumes by Bart Gamett, Idaho Mountain Express, 7/8/15

Greg Moore
Restoration at Yankee Fork Resumes
Idaho Mountain Express, July 15, 2015

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