Fish screens installed on Blackfoot River tributaries

Fish screens were installed on irrigation diversions on Diamond Creek and Lanes Creek in eastern Idaho as part of an effort to restore the upper Blackfoot River fishery.

I discovered this wonderful native Yellowstone cutthroat trout stream when I researched the Flyfisher’s Guide to Idaho I co-wrote with Ken Retallic in the 1990s. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission bought the 1,720 acre Stocking Ranch located on the Blackfoot River downstream from the confluence of the two tributaries, Lanes and Diamond Creeks, providing easy access to this rather isolated but excellent fishing hole.

Earlier this year I wrote about the Upper Blackfoot River Initiative for Conservation, a voluntary partnership among JR Simplot Co., Monsanto, Agrium/Nu-West Industries, the Idaho Conservation League and Trout Unlimited. These companies and groups share their resources and expertise to complete projects that improve water quality and fish habitat.

The mining companies have gotten a lot of bad publicity over the last few years because of selenium pollution in the region. The collaborative project was designed to get the previously warring parties to work together on restoration on which they could agree.

This initiative group worked with the Bear Lake Grazing Co., which owns and operates the irrigation structures, to install new fish-friendly diversion weirs. The project was a success and the groups is hoping to convince other landowners to cooperate.

“The work went very quickly and there was minimal disturbance of our cattle operation,” said Joan Bunderson, managing partner of the Bear Lake Grazing Co. board. “The end result was improved fish habitat and an improved irrigation system.”

Their work also shows that with some cooperation between federal and state agencies and irrigation districts some of the thousands of fish lost annually in the Boise River's 45 irrigation diversions can be saved. The Blackfoot's private efforts can serve as a model.