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McCabe Creek

Project location of McCabe Creek in the Blackfoot Watershed

McCabe Creek is located in the Monture Creek bull trout recovery area. The creek is a cold basin-fed tributary to lower Dick Creek, entering at stream mile 3.8.  It begins as a steep mountain stream in its headwaters before entering knob-and-kettle topography in the lower basin. In lower reaches, McCabe Creek enters a series of beaver-influenced wetland bogs before entering Dick Creek. The creek has among the coldest recorded summer time stream temperatures recorded of any tributary in the Blackfoot Watershed, with mean daily temperatures ranging between 43-48 degrees Fahrenheit in 1998.

McCabe Creek has a long history of adverse fisheries impacts related to channel alterations and agricultural activities. These include chronic dewatering, loss of fish to irrigation ditches, intensive riparian grazing, physical alterations to the channel and poorly designed road crossing. In order to prioritize restoration resources, we developed a fisheries-based restoration priority scorecard, based on biological, social and financial considerations, for 83 impaired tributaries of the Blackfoot River. McCabe Creek ranked 20 of 83 streams surveyed.

In 1992, fish population surveys were taken above and below the culvert. Fish densities were recorded at 23.2 fish/100 feet above the culvert compared to 64.9 fish/100 feet below the culvert. The survey included recording higher numbers of larger cutthroat trout below than above the culvert, indicating the culvert is a barrier to upstream migrating fluvial cutthroat trout.

Bar graph showing length frequency of cutthroat trout above and below the McCabe Creek culvert

In 2001, westslope cutthroat trout age 1+ increased at river mile 2.2 from 1.1 fish/100 feet in 1999 to 11.7 fish/100 feet in 2001. At river mile 3.2, westslope cutthroat trout increased from 2.0 fish/100 feet in 1999 to 5.9 fish/100 feet in 2001.

A comprehensive restoration project for McCabe Creek began in 1999 and was completed in 2001. The project:

1) consolidated four irrigation ditches into one pipeline and screened the intake;

2) converted flood to sprinkler irrigation;

3) restored habitat conditions including the placement of instream wood and shrub plantings;

4) incorporated necessary riparian livestock management changes; and

5) improved a county road crossing.

McCabe Creek is a westslope cutthroat trout dominated stream with low densities of brook trout in lower stream reaches. Due to cool summer temperatures, McCabe Creek likely supported bull trout historically. In 1999, prior to project implementation, fish population survey sites were established in two restoration project locations:  one upstream of an irrigation diversion (mile 3.2); and a second downstream site (mile 2.2) in an area of low habitat complexity and reduced stream flows. Following these initial surveys, we screened the upper diversion, implemented water savings projects, and completed habitat restoration in the downstream reach.

Completed and Planned Projects

1) Reconstruction of three irrigation diversions allowing fish passage and providing instream flows (1997)

pipeline construction photo

2) Removal of County Road Culvert and replacement with open bottom box culvert (1999)

Oversized culvert in McCabe Creek before restoration McCabe Creek after installation of a new fish-friendly culvert
Undersized and perched culvert on
McCabe Creek before restoration
Open bottom box culvert on
McCabe Creek after restoration

3) Improved grazing management along one mile of riparian/stream reach (1999)

offsite stocktank photo

4) Reconstruction of one mile of stream that had been previously channelized

restored stream photo

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Blackfoot Valley Watershed
Montana Partners for Fish and Wildlife
Regional Partners for Fish & Wildlife Home Page
Mountain-Prairie Region
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service