19-08-23 little wood structures E (2).jpg

These two woody structures were built in Baugh Creek last fall to improve riparian conditions.

Last November, a coalition of government agencies, local nonprofit organizations and private landowners participated in an effort to restore riparian areas along three tributaries of the Little Wood River within the area burned by the Sharps Fire by building 139 woody-debris structures to imitate the effects of beaver dams. The partners intend to continue that project this September by building 150 more such structures on three additional creeks in the drainage.

Keri York, who’s organizing the project on behalf of the Hemingway Chapter of Trout Unlimited, said it’s intended to restore riparian areas degraded from use, rehabilitate burned areas and improve sage grouse habitat.

This year’s projects will cover 6.5 miles of Cold Spring, High Five and Thompson creeks. The first two creeks flow into the Little Wood River on its west side, about 10 miles east of Bellevue, while Thompson Creek flows south out of the Sawtooth National Forest into Muldoon Creek, farther to the northeast. Two miles of the project length along Cold Spring Creek are on state land, while the rest is on private land owned by the Muldoon Grazing Association and Flat Top Sheep Co.

York said the creeks suffer from bank erosion and channelization.

According to a report written by the project’s Logan, Utah-based contractor, Anabranch Solutions, the “beaver dam analogues” can increase stream complexity, restore flow, improve aquatic habitat and increase groundwater level.

Several types of structures are created. Some are begun by pounding posts into the streambed, then filling in behind them with willow branches and dead aspen trees, small rocks and mud. Some are built without the posts and others reinforce abandoned beaver dams.

York said some type of restoration work in the drainage was contemplated even before the Sharps Fire burned through parts of Blaine County last summer, but the fire both increased the urgency and provided an opportunity to study the structures’ effectiveness in burned areas. The Anabranch report states that as far as the firm knows, the Little Wood projects are the first-ever use of the structures in a post-fire environment.

York said participants will check on the structures installed last fall and do maintenance work if it’s needed.

She said this year’s project will take three to four weeks and cost about $100,000—paid for by all six government agencies, three nonprofit organizations and two private landowners involved, either through financial contributions, materials provided or labor.

Trout Unlimited obtained a stream-alteration permit for the project last week. York said the group still needs permits from the Idaho Department of Water Resources and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which it expects to have within the next two weeks.

She said participants would like to continue the work on creeks running through BLM land in future years.

Post-fire rehabilitation

Last fall, a coordinated effort among federal and state agencies aerially seeded native grasses and forbs on the area burned by the Sharps Fire.

Charles Sandford, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service partnering with the BLM’s Twin Falls District, said a field trip in July showed that the seeding projects have so far been successful.

“I think everyone was pleasantly surprised with how the seedings were coming in,” Sandford said.

He said even sagebrush seed-lings are already appearing—something not expected until next year. He said considerable moisture this winter and spring probably contributed to that.

Sandford said field trip participants also saw a lot of sego lilies, which have grown there naturally.

“There were entire hillsides painted white with the sego lilies,” he said.

Sandford said another positive sign was minimal amounts of cheatgrass.

He said there are no plans at this time for any more seeding projects, though participants will continue to monitor the area this fall and next spring to see whether plant growth is progressing as expected.

Email the writer: gmoore@mtexpress.com

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