Lower Kootenai River, ID
Originating in British Columbia, Canada, the Kootenai River flows into northwest Montana and through northern Idaho before returning to British Columbia. The Lower Kootenai represents a reach of approximate 45 river miles that meanders through north Idaho—and is the focus of BEF’s Model Watershed project.
Throughout the past century, the cumulative effect of continually increasing human land use pressures, including agriculture, logging, mining and flood control, has produced landscape-scale changes throughout the lower Kootenai River and its tributary streams. One result has been declining populations of native species including Kootenai River white sturgeon, burbot, kokanee, and redband, westslope cutthroat and bull trout.
With several Kootenai River fish species in danger of extinction, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho set out to develop a program to recover native fish by rehabilitating and protecting the watershed ecosystems in Idaho’s lower Kootenai River valley. From the outset, the Tribe worked with the local community to develop a scientific and accountable restoration approach that would direct limited resources to the most effective restoration strategies.
In 2001, BEF awarded the Kootenai Tribe an initial grant to complete a comprehensive biological assessment for the watershed and prioritize restoration actions for Trout Creek, a lower Kootenai River tributary. Based on the findings, the Tribe began working with local landowners to restore degraded stream habitat and riparian areas.
The Tribe’s emerging strategy identified the need to implement and sustain a long-term restoration and monitoring approach across the entire lower Kootenai River basin. Unfortunately, the majority of funding available at the time was earmarked to support the implementation of on-the-ground restoration projects. What was needed was sustained support to liaise with landowners, plan and implement restoration work in tributaries, and measure the results of these efforts in order to continually improve restoration tactics over time.
In 2003, BEF and the Tribe partnered to develop a 10-year restoration and monitoring plan for lower Kootenai River tributary streams. The plan lays out specific and measurable restoration objectives, establishes 10-year monitoring schedules necessary to track progress toward stated restoration objectives, and identifies a suite of integrated, long-term actions necessary to restore native fish populations.
BEF’s 10-year commitment helps the Tribe take the long-term approach they knew was necessary to advance a truly scientific and adaptive strategy to heal their watershed.
—Susan C. Ireland, Fish and Wildlife Program Director, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho