New partnership aims to sustain trout populations for future generations of outdoor enthusiasts

With funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the program will boost climate resilience for trout, salmon, and steelhead

Today, 1.5 million miles of trout and salmon waters in America are degraded.

For anglers, these rivers and streams are prized places, but they matter to all of us.

These waters are not only home to iconic native and wild fish. They supply the water we drink and use for agriculture and provide endless opportunities to get outside and connect with nature.

But these water systems and the fish in them are at risk as the regional climate’s temperature rises. Reduced snowpack, warming waters, drought, wildfires, extreme flooding, and increased agricultural and domestic water withdrawals reduce the quality and quantity of salmon and trout habitat.

Watch: Climate change and its impact on hunting, angling, and other recreational pursuits

The Biden-Harris Administration announced this month that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service is providing up to $40 million to Trout Unlimited, the nation’s oldest and largest cold-water fisheries conservation organization, as part of a five-year agreement to improve watersheds that are home to many of America’s most important trout and salmon species.

More than 40% of trout streams in the U.S. flow through the 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands. Projects through the partnership include the clean-up of abandoned mines and removing barriers to improve fish passage, as well as stream habitat improvements.

Made possible by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this five-year National Watershed and Aquatic Restoration Initiative aims to increase the pace and scale of watershed restoration on national forests and grasslands, with priority given to projects that use local employees and contractors to improve water quality in underserved communities and on Tribal lands.

“Our agreement with Trout Unlimited continues our joint success as stewards of national forests and grasslands,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “Our partnership is not just about cleaning a stream or increasing fish population. It’s life-sustaining work that is as vital to aquatic species as it is to people and communities. When our natural resources are healthy, we are healthy as a nation and as individuals.”

“It is heartening to see the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s resources being put to good use,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “This agreement builds on a long and productive partnership between the Forest Service and Trout Unlimited. Together over the years, we have already restored more than 400 miles of important fish habitat, reconnected more than 700 miles of habitat by removing barriers to fish migration, and improved hundreds of thousands of acres of National Forest System lands. We are excited to continue and expand on this work over the coming years.”

In recent years, Trout Unlimited leveraged $20 million in Forest Service funding to carry out $62 million worth of projects, improving forest health and water quality, and building key partnerships while supporting hundreds of family-wage jobs in rural communities.

Earlier this fall, Trout Unlimited announced the completion of one of these projects protecting native cutthroat trout populations through the Spread Creek Fish Passage.

In 2010, over 50 miles of the watershed were opened to migratory Snake River cutthroat trout after an extensive irrigation diversion dam that spanned the entire width of Spread Creek, just outside of Grand Teton National Park on Bridger-Teton National Forest, was removed.

The dam was replaced with a fish passage-friendly diversion structure and a new water delivery system. Partners documented fish successfully moving throughout the stream’s headwaters and Snake River for the first time in more than 50 years.

However, project leaders also found that some native fish were trapped in the irrigation system as they migrated downstream.

Partners again teamed up for the project’s $1.6M second phase, which installed a fish screen on the Spread Creek irrigation system to prevent fish entrapment through the water intake system. It also improved the existing diversion structure, stabilized nearby banks and channels, and in doing so, built climate resiliency for native cutthroat trout and irrigators.

Watch: How Snake River cutthroat trout were reintroduced into Spread Creek for the first time in more than 50 years

Trout Unlimited is identifying a national network of priority waters based on the best fisheries science and guided by its strategic plan. Over the coming years, Trout Unlimited will use the funding from this agreement to work alongside partners to protect and restore these waters to improve fish population diversity, resilience and productivity.

In its recent work, Trout Unlimited has worked with Tribes, agricultural landowners, mining companies, and government agencies to reconnect habitat and reduce flood risk on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin, restore native brook trout habitat on private lands around the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, restore streams in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest in Idaho and clean up mines and restore streams in the Chugach National Forest in Alaska.

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