Culverts, salmon and steelhead


By R. Chad Chorney

In Idaho, chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout have all been listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. That’s the bad news. 

The good news is that some of the best remaining spawning and rearing habitat for these fish is found in the central part of the state, particularly in the upper Salmon River drainage. Pole Creek, a small tributary of the upper Salmon near Stanley, Idaho, is one of these waters. Chinook, steelhead and bull trout have historically spawned and reared juvenile fish in Pole Creek, and the creek itself has been designated as critical habitat for recovery of these species. 

However, problems persist. Past irrigation practices on Pole Creek resulted in lengthy stream segments going dry during the summer. Since the early 1980s, some improvements with respect to water use have been made, but barriers to fish migration still exist.     

Two culverts on Pole Creek limit access to critical habitat for salmon, bull trout and steelhead, and have fallen into disrepair. The U.S. Forest Service and key private landowners hope to remove these existing culverts and replace them with bridges this summer. Combined with modifications to current irrigation diversions, removal of the two culverts will open up an additional six miles of quality habitat on Pole Creek. This habitat will allow access for upstream migration for spawning salmon, steelhead and bull trout, and provide productive aquatic habitat for all native trout. 

Anyone who has swung a fly to native, wild steelhead or chinook knows how special these fish are. The steelhead and salmon of central Idaho are a little extra special. Somehow, these fish navigate eight dams and swim over 900 miles to reach their natal waters. Culverts such as those found on Pole Creek often present a final barrier to successful migration and reproduction. The Orvis/TU 1,000 Miles Campaign will help give these special fish a much-needed boost on their road to recovery.

R. Chad Chorney is Trout Unlimited’s Southern Idaho Project Manager.