Chimney Creek Habitat Restoration
In partnership with a rural homeowners association, the Blackfoot Challenge initiated a low-impact restoration project on Chimney Creek, a mountain tributary to Douglas Creek within the Blackfoot River Watershed. Once surrounded by an extensive wetland complex and natural beaver dams, Chimney has lost floodplain connectivity and wetlands habitat as beavers were removed from the system. This project aims to restore riparian and wetland condition using low-impact restoration (LIR) techniques – including beaver dam analogs (BDAs) – built with native materials. Designed as a multi-phase restoration project, work in Phase I has addressed two reaches totaling more than 1,500 feet – identified as locations where potential for natural water storage is high and habitat most in need of restoration. In June 2019, the Blackfoot Challenge and more than 20 volunteers built 20 BDAs and installed fencing to allow aspen groves to regenerate. The project’s early benefits have encouraged the Challenge and landowners to pursue funding to install Phase II.
The second phase of restoration includes several reaches totaling up to 1,000 feet surrounded by meadows formed by historic beaver activity. The meadows are becoming increasingly dry, with upland grasses colonizing former wetland. Parts of the stream channel are slightly more confined and steeper than the other reaches. Consequently, areas of active streambank cutting are present and contribute sediment to Chimney Creek.
Phase 2 also presents opportunities for improving groundwater recharge and riparian shrub cover. In this proposed future phase, restoration goals include:
- Install an additional 6-12 BDAs to raise the water table, reconnect channels, and expand wetlands;
- Place logs/woody debris to support pool formation and improve cover for native cutthroat trout;
- Install riparian fencing to allow shrub recovery and protect BDAs;
- Plant riparian shrubs or install willow stakes to improve bank stability and provide shade for fish and aquatic life; and
- Replace an undersized culvert to improve aquatic organism passage and restore unencumbered stream flow to prevent further sediment deposition upstream of a road crossing and reduce risk of culvert failure.
To document project outcomes, the Blackfoot Challenge and GMPOA landowners are collaborating on a five-year monitoring plan, including photopoints, wetland vegetation cover estimates, and a description of project outcomes. The Challenge also plans to work with state fisheries biologists to assess fish response, particularly for the pure strain of native westslope cutthroat trout that have been documented in Chimney Creek.
The Montana Watershed Coordination Council’s Watershed Fund provides capacity and project support to the Blackfoot Challenge. To learn more about the Watershed Fund and about similar projects across Montana, contact MWCC Watershed Programs Coordinator Terri Nichols at (406) 475-1420 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Project restores natural hydrologic conditions to facilitate improved capture and infiltration of surface water and groundwater recharge