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Fisheries project helps White River

By Sun Advocate

It is obvious that some stream conditions are more conducive to fish than others; and some of those same conditions are more conducive for other important factors as well.
The right fork of the White River, near Soldiers Summit is a good example of a place that has some great stream conditions, and some that are very poor. Sometimes these conditions are the result of a major event such as a flood.
Mike Slater is an aquatic biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and an expert in aquatic habitat for native species. For the last three months and part of last fall and winter as well, Slater has been working on a project that will improve the habitat on the right fork and the project in the target area for this year is just about done.
“This is the only drainage in this region that has the original native species in it; Colorado Cutthroat Trout,” stated Slater as he pointed at the river below. “We looked at this area and want to use it as a breeding ground for those fish so we can do some transplanting from here to other areas.”
Over the years, fish and game agencies have made mistakes in what they have done to native species. In times past, agencies often planted other fish, such as the Rainbow Trout in areas, just to have a good game fish in the water. Today’s fish and game agencies are realizing that the native species of fish are actually more important to have in waters in certain areas, so they are working hard to improve those waters that already have a good supply of those fish.
With that in mind, it is important to fix problems in waterways that may be hindering the growth of these populations. That is why about a 3,000 foot section of the White River’s right fork was picked for the initial reclamation.
“I spent last year doing a lot of preliminary work on this project,” states Slater. “We looked at sections of the river above where we are doing the work and tried to determine what the more natural look and direction of the river is and now we are trying to bring this section more in line with that, because that is where the fish are doing the best.”
The section Slater picked for renovation is also a section that was causing other problems in the area. It is on private ground owned by Wilson Brothers Livestock. At first they were hesitant to let the DWR come in and fix the problem, but now, according to Slater, are pretty happy with the results they are seeing.
“They don’t use this quarter section to run cattle on, but they do own it none the less,” said Slater.
The part of the stream that has been under construction was probably a good waterway for fish at one time, but Slater believes the problem began 18 years ago.
“I think the floods of 1983 changed how the river was running in this area and that began a process that led to a poor drainage.”
The section being changed became a problem in many ways. First, the erosion caused the banks to sluff off until they were not only very steep, but in fact vertical in many places. A poor place to fish. The damage also took away good fish habitat which led to fewer fish.
“When I did the survey, I was actually surprised to find there were some fish in this section,” said Slater. “But there were far fewer than in the places where the river ran the way it should.”
The flood also began to change the channel of the river so that at the top of the section it ran entirely against the east side of the canyon and on the lower section it shifted running against the west side where it was continually causing problems with the road that runs to Indian Ridge and to Indian Canyon.
“It was not only unnatural, but it was making it so the forest service could hardly keep that road open,” said Slater.
In addition what was taking place in that section of the river also affected the water quality.
“The sediment that was coming out of the area was tremendous,” said Slater. “PRWID was also interested in what we were doing here.”
So with the blessing and help from many different agencies Slater began the project last fall, cutting his way through the willows with a chain saw and shooting grades with a laser to plan the process.
“I found it was easier to walk in the snow and figure it out during the winter than it was when the willows had their foliage,” he said.
By the time spring came, Slater had the whole thing planned. Financial backing came from the DWR, the Forest Service and some money also came from Trout Unlimited. Other organizations also donated materials. UDOT gave Slater a great number of rocks to use for rock vanes and falls (they control the erosion on stream curves and along beds) and Talon Resources gave the project some trees that were used for the root wads created to stop erosion by burying large trees in the ground with the roots sticking into the water on curves. These root wads keep the water from banging directly into the banks.
The work began in May and will basically finish up this week. What exists in the area today is a far cry from what was there in April. The stream flows in a more organized manner, with sloped banks and natural curves.
Most important of all there are pools that were created for the fish to live and breed in and the steam now flows in a manner that won’t affect the road.
The idea of how to change stream flow properly and create habitat in natural manner was developed by a man in Colorado who now owns a company that shows people how to do this all over the country. Slater, along with a DWR biologist from Spanish Fork are the only two people in the region that have taken the training from that company.
The project not only changes the stream flow to a more natural course, but also uses a number of techniques to create good places for fish to live and prevents further erosion.
“One of the things we found during our survey was that the Colorado Cutthroat Trout we found in the stream were pretty much pure breeds,” says Slater. “That surprised us. We were worried that they had cross bred with some of the other types of trout that have been planted in the stream over the years and wouldn’t be genetically pure.”
Right now the banks are free from most vegetation and anyone can tell the work that was done here was with big equipment. But in only a few years, the willows will have grown back and the stream will sport all kinds of wildlife.
“We already have ducks using the waters and we set it up so that the bugs and insects will return very quickly,” said Slater as he looked at the water. Just at that moment a fish came to the surface in one of the new, but muddy pools recently created.
“Did you see that,” he said. “A fish just came to the top to feed. They are already making themselves at home.”

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