By DOUGLAS LITTLE
In the last three Octobers, my wife and I have served as volunteers at the Silver Creek Preserve near Picabo. During the first half of the day, one of us typically staffs the visitor center while the other does projects around the preserve. These have included planting trees and bushes and installing birdhouses. The last half of the day is spent fishing, often until sunset, at numerous stretches along Silver Creek. In the evening, we stay at the Kilpatrick Cabin adjacent to the Kilpatrick Pond. We are in or along the stream the entire time of our volunteering stint.
We are both avid trout fishermen and usually fish 40 to 50 days per year on 10 or more waters, primarily in Idaho, Oregon and Montana. We are both retired, my wife from her anthropology work at the University of Washington and I from my energy and environmental law practice in Seattle. In addition, I am on the board of a salmon recovery organization rebuilding salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest.
When we meet other fishermen on other waters around the West and start talking about Silver Creek, everyone knows about it, views it with awe and respect, and wants to fish it or to fish it again. It is a blue-ribbon trout stream in a beautiful setting. Blaine County has a fishing and wildlife jewel that other communities can only covet.
As with any cold-water fishery, high-quality habitat is essential to having a high-quality trout fishery. There are many aspects of a good habitat. At Silver Creek, these include keeping the water cold and clean and keeping the stream from silting up. For fisheries in areas of multiple land uses, such as the Silver Creek drainage, habitat does not just take care of itself. It can degrade on its own but with well-designed restoration projects it can be maintained and even enhanced.
For anyone who, like me, does much wading in Silver Creek, excessive silt buildup and the related weed proliferation are obvious concerns. They seemed to be worsening this year. Can the fish access the gravels necessary for spawning? Is the water flow being restricted such that water temperatures are rising too high in the summer? Is fish passage and mobility being impeded? These are the problems that the Kilpatrick Pond project will address. The removal of silt from the somewhat stagnant pond and the creation of better channels through it will improve the flows.
Good hydraulic flow will help keep down the water temperature and increase sediment transport. The creation of new banks and wetlands should promote the growth of terrestrial vegetation that will further benefit water temperatures. Channels and meanders will add to the diversity of structure and holding areas for fish of various ages. The Kilpatrick Pond project is a pro-fisheries project that will preserve and should enhance the quality of the fishing experience at the Silver Creek Preserve.
I compliment The Nature Conservancy for not being content with the status quo but instead initiating projects and practices to continually improve the Silver Creek experience. Blaine County is fortunate to have such stewardship in its community. On the personal level, I am looking forward to contributing my efforts to the Kilpatrick Pond project when we return for next year’s volunteering at the Silver Creek Preserve.
Douglas Little is a resident of Seattle.