Tincup Creek, Idaho

The Tincup Creek Stream Restoration project will improve riparian conditions and habitat for a full assemblage of native fishes such as Longnose and Speckled dace, Sculpin, Redside shiners, Mountain suckers, the rare Northern Leatherside chub, and Yellowstone Cutthroat trout. In addition, at least three other aquatic or semiaquatic species of interest are present including a native pilose crayfish, western pearl shell mussel, and a unique clade of boreal toads. These are all native species with a special management emphasis. Because of the assemblage of these native species, and the degraded yet recoverable nature of the system, Trout Unlimited (TU) and the Caribou-Targhee National Forest (CTNF) have chosen to focus their efforts here.

A review conducted using historical aerial photos and on-the-ground knowledge shows a system that was very much intact in 1953 as primarily a single-thread channel with a high density of willows. In 1956, aerial spraying conducted in the drainage eliminated the majority of the willows. Remnants of the historic channel indicate historic bank full widths of 15 feet, versus bank full widths of up to 30 feet found currently. The 1964 and 1976 photos show a stream that became a braided, over-widened gravel bed system, while willows gradually returned. Currently, the willow community has greatly recovered. However, there are lingering effects to the system that will take decades to recover without restoration or intervention. The evidence of this degradation is the many outside meander bends are raw, vertical and eroding, rather than being stabilized by willows. Further adding to the impairment is the loss of channel length due to meander cutoffs, the resulting steepening of the gradient, and the 1 to 3-foot downcutting of the channel, leading to an unhealthy, disconnected floodplain and riparian zone.

This project is not being designed to stabilize the stream in place, but rather to re-elevate it to restore the functions and processes that make for healthy habitat, floodplains, and riparian zones. During mark-recapture studies of Northern Leatherside chub in this drainage, CTNF found the greatest concentrations associated with beaver dams and in the area of previous restoration work where large woody debris was used to stabilize eroding bends. By focusing on restoring floodplain connectivity, proper channel dimensions, and old meanders using native willows and sod as well as imported wood, habitat for native species will be improved.

Once this multi-year project is completed a full 4 miles of degraded stream will be restored. Many benefits are expected, including a healthier floodplain and riparian area – with a shift toward more mesic species in the floodplain as overland flow increases, especially in the spring. Beaver populations and dams are expected to increase as runoff forces are better dissipated on the floodplain instead of staying in-channel. Habitat diversity and complexity are expected to increase with more rearing and hiding cover available to different life stages and different fishes. Northern Leatherside chubs are expected to increase in population density due to greater habitat complexity and beaver activity (especially in the upper reaches of the project area). The sediment load in the system will decrease due to the treatment of eroding banks. Sediment deposition will also decrease as the channel is narrowed and fines are more easily transported down the system. These improvements should result in higher reproductive success and recruitment, with surges expected in population densities of all native fishes. Most of all, project partners expect to see a healthy and functioning riparian system that continues to improve through time.

Human Interest/Community Benefit: Throughout the years the awe-inspiring majesty of many of the United States western waters have been reduced through the damning of rivers and the creation of cities and towns as our population across the country has grown. While the convenience of better jobs, shorter commutes, and access to a plethora of dining and shopping venues is wonderful, the downside is the diminishing appreciation and use of our countries federal and state lands for hunting, fishing, and general leisure activities. There are now few who regularly enjoy a backdrop as unique and beautiful as the one found at Tincup Creek.

Tincup Creek in Bonneville and Caribou Counties is 37.0 miles in length and flows from an elevation of 9,076 to 5,741 feet. This high elevation stream historically provided locals and visitors with excellent fishing opportunities. By restoring Tincup Creek to its natural historic state visitors and locals alike will be able to once again enjoy the beauty of a healthy stream filled with delightfully tasty and eye-catching fish. To protect this incredible resource, Trout Unlimited, the U.S Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and many others have banded together to develop and implement this high-priority restoration project.

The first phase of this project was funded with $44,000 in National Fish Habitat Partnership funds, $150,140 in federal funds, and $58,760 in non-federal funds for a total project cost of $252,900.

Project Timeline:
The project will be completed over a three-year time frame. Phase I started in August of 2017. Phase II is scheduled for August 2018 and Phase III is expected to be completed in 2019.

Economic Calculator results:
As per a model developed by the Genter Consulting Group, the habitat enhancement aspects of the project alone will result in the creation of 28 additional jobs and an estimated $1,234,851.48 million dollar increase in economic activity.

This project was funded by the following partners; Desert Fish Habitat Partnership, Western Native Trout Initiative, U.S. Forest Service, Jackson Hole Trout Unlimited, Jackson Hole One Fly, Snake River Cutthroats Trout Unlimited, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Additional in-kind support was provided by Agrium, Bear Lakes Grazing Association, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, grazing permittees and Caribou County.

2017 Waters to Watch