The Salmon-Challis National Forest has received a Chief’s Honor Award, the highest honor in the Forest Service, for its project to improve fish habitat in a degraded section of the Yankee Fork, a tributary of the Salmon River downstream from Stanley.

The awards are presented in Washington, D.C., each year to celebrate employees who find innovative ways to embrace the goals of the agency’s strategic plan. The Salmon-Challis National Forest won for the category of Sustaining Our Nation’s Forests and Grasslands.

The multiyear project is intended to repair damage done by years of dredge mining, which created piles of rock tailings and stagnant ponds along more than five miles of the river during the 1940s and early 1950s. In addition, timber harvesting, mining, road construction and fire suppression have caused large wood abundance in the river to drop far below natural levels.

The project has been carried out by a Forest Service team with the help of other federal agencies, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Trout Unlimited and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe. Team members include Bart Gamett, the forest’s South Zone fisheries biologist; Cassie Wood, project manager with Trout Unlimited; Paul Drury, project manager with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; and Evelyn Galloway, habitat biologist with the Shoshone Bannock Tribe.

Planning began in 2012 to restore woody debris to a 28-mile stretch of the Yankee Fork. Implementation has run through the present with crew size growing to 13 members per year. They have placed 728 trees or portions of trees as well as large boulders throughout the project area. Crews also created three simulated avalanches with rock and debris flows, “which clearly suggests innovation to achieve project design,” the Forest Service said in a press release.

The agency said monitoring validates a sustaining, ecologically restored section within the Yankee Fork. Juvenile steelhead and Chinook salmon started using pools created by the woody debris as soon as the trees were placed in the stream.

“Success was truly exhibited in September 2016, with the sighting of the first Chinook salmon spawning in the restored waters of the Yankee Fork,” the agency said.

In 2017, the pond series portion of the project began, covering about 10 acres. Fourteen crew members and supervisors participated in relocating about 700 feet of Forest Service road; restoring the floodplain, stream channel and riparian vegetation to a more natural condition; eliminating some dredge tailings and some dredge ponds; creating and restoring upland areas; and improving fishing access at two dredge ponds.

The Forest Service stated that the project will probably continue through 2020.

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