Montana Partners for Fish and Wildlife
Project Profile: Nevada Spring Creek Restoration - A Climate Change Success Story
Contact: Jim Stutzman, (406) 727-7400 x224
Nevada Spring Creek originates at a natural artesian spring and flows 4.2 miles to its confluence with Nevada Creek. Nevada Creek is a principal tributary to the Big Blackfoot River, made famous in the book and movie “A River Runs Through It." The Blackfoot River Watershed lies at the southern edge of the “Crown of the Continent” ecosystem and makes up the eastern edge of the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative.
At its headwaters, Nevada Spring Creek consistently produces flow rates of 7-10 cubic feet per second and emerges from the ground at 44 degrees Fahrenheit. The spring creek is located primarily on private lands and has a long history of human-caused impacts, including irrigation diversions, undersized in-stream culverts, and improper grazing management practices. Over time, these activities caused significant degradation of the creek. Prior to restoration, the stream was over-widened, with some sections approaching a width of 100 feet. By comparison, normal width for this stream type is 6-10 feet. Water temperatures regularly exceeded 75 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer months, far exceeding tolerance levels for most native salmonids. Additionally, runoff from adjacent agricultural lands adversely affected water quality and created unsuitable habitat conditions for coldwater salmonids in the creek.
Pre-restoration monitoring in 2002 revealed no native salmonids inhabiting Nevada Spring Creek. In addition to complete loss of native salmonids, the survey showed an increase in warm water tolerant species such as red-sided shiners, northern pike minnow, and large scale suckers. Observations from long-term local landowners indicated that native westslope cutthroat trout were once the dominant species in Nevada Spring Creek. A thorough stream assessment determined that habitat degradation was the cause for the loss of native fishes. The Blackfoot River is home to bull trout, a federally-listed species (threatened) that depends on cold, clean, connected and complex river habitat for survival. Restoring bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout to Nevada Spring Creek was a primary project goal.
In 2002, a diverse group of partners including private landowners, the Big Blackfoot Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Blackfoot Challenge, Chutney Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a comprehensive plan to restore the entire 4.2 miles of Nevada Spring Creek. Restoration activities included complete reconstruction of the Nevada Spring Creek channel, riparian grazing modifications, in-stream flow enhancement, wetland/riparian restoration and native shrub plantings.
The habitat features in Nevada Spring Creek showed significant improvements after restoration. By using bull trout thermal requirements as an indicator for success, the temperature goal of keeping peak summer stream temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit was met. Even more encouraging was data collected in 2007 by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks: in five years, the monitoring results showed a diverse salmonid population that included mountain whitefish, westslope cutthroat trout, and bull trout. Restoring Nevada Spring Creek is an excellent example of a local project that has had a documented positive benefit for cold-water native fishes at a landscape-scale across the entire Blackfoot River Watershed.