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A Chronic Threat to a Bull Trout Stronghold

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The Kickbush Slide is scheduled for repair this summer

February 27, 2002

A cooperative project to be implemented this summer will benefit the threatened bull trout in the second most important stream for the species in the Lake Pend Oreille system. Bull trout were added to the Endangered Species List several years ago, and today Lake Pend Oreille and its tributaries are considered one of the species’ few remaining strongholds throughout its entire Columbia Basin range.

 “Historically Lake Pend Oreille supported a huge population of bull trout,” explained Sandpoint District Ranger Dick Kramer. “They used to go all the way up the Clark Fork, but of course they can’t now, though that is changing. But the three biggies (the tributaries that support the most spawning) left are Trestle Creek, Gold Creek and Lightning Creek. They are the last of the best for Lake Pend Oreille.”

Gold Creek has been in trouble for the better part of a century. Just a mile upstream from where it empties into the lake below the community of Lakeview, a disaster-in-waiting is perched on a steep bluff above Kickbush Gulch. Known as the Kickbush Slide, it’s what Shanda Dekome described as “an over-steepened slope” that has been “a chronic source of sediment” to Gold Creek for decades. Dekome, after working for three years on the Sandpoint Ranger District, is now the Fisheries Biologist for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests at its headquarters in Coeur d’Alene.

The cause of the slide is Forest Service Road 278. Back at the turn of the 20th century miners pushed roads into many isolated drainages in search of precious metals. The road on which the slide is located eventually became the primary access route to Lakeview and is used heavily in the summer. Because of the steepness of the road cut above Kickbush Gulch, it didn’t take long for the bank to start crumbling into the stream.

The slide is over 400 feet long, more than 100 feet high and has been recognized as a serious source of sediment for at least 20 years. Sediment washes into the gulch about 1000 feet above its confluence with Gold Creek. Dekome described a project in 1983 that was meant to reduce the erosion taking place, but it didn’t fix the problem.

Now, with the cooperation of several entities and a private landowner, the Kickbush Slide is scheduled to be fixed once and for all this summer. Involved in the project are the U.S. Forest Service, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Avista, the Panhandle Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Dick Weatherly. Weatherly owns property at the top of the slide that will be affected by the project, but he has willingly joined in the effort to stop the erosion.

Chris Downs, the Regional Fisheries Biologist for Idaho Fish and Game, a position funded by Avista through its Settlement Agreement for the company’s re-licensing of its lower Clark Fork River dams, touted the importance of Gold Creek to bull trout. “Gold Creek is the second most important producer of bull trout in Lake Pend Oreille,” he said. “Trestle Creek is the most important, but this is number two. Those two streams are absolutely key to the long term persistence of bull trout in Lake Pend Oreille.”

Downs related some numbers to prove how critical Trestle and Gold creeks are to the system. During redd counts in 2001 (a redd is a spawning bed created by a female bull trout), Trestle Creek was found to have 331 redds. Downs knows of no other tributary in the U.S. with a run of adult bull trout that large.  Gold Creek had 127. Those 458 redds accounted for over 65% of all redds found in a total of 18 streams in the Lake Pend Oreille watershed surveyed for spawning bull trout. Of the 241 other redds counted, more than a fourth of those were found in Rattle Creek, an upstream tributary to Lightning Creek.

In 2000, Downs stated, a population estimate for adult bull trout in Gold Creek put the number at 340 fish. That has seemed to hold steady over time, but everyone agrees that Gold Creek could do better and that one of the primary obstacles to enhancing bull trout habitat in the stream is the Kickbush Slide.

Sandpoint District Ranger Dick Kramer noted that district personnel completed a watershed analysis of the entire Gold Creek drainage last year, and though the problem at Kickbush had been identified long before that, he said the timing was right to do something permanent about it. The listing of bull trout under the Endangered Species Act and the re-licensing of Avista’s dams on the Clark Fork both dovetailed with the Forest Service and Fish and Game’s desire to do something about the slide. Choosing to fix this erosion problem, Kramer said, “was a no-brainer.”

Volunteers with the local chapter of Trout Unlimited also stepped forward in an offer to help stabilize the erosion problem at Kickbush. Chapter President Troy Tvrdy said they applied for a national TU grant and were awarded the full amount of $10,000 to help with the project. Dekome, a Panhandle TU member herself, remarked that the Kickbush Slide project was one of only one or two projects nationwide to receive the full amount of the grant.

Still, that sum represented only about six percent of the total cost for taking care of the problem at Kickbush Gulch. Enter Avista with a commitment of $110,000, add another $75,000 provided by the Forest Service, and the open wound at Kickbush was scheduled for repair.

Avista’s Clark Fork Aquatic Program Leader, Joe DosSantos, explained the company’s interest in this project. “Gold Creek is a priority bull trout stream,” he said. “The slide has continued to cascade over the road and contribute unwanted sediment. When we were approached with this project last year, we thought it was very worthwhile. This is a pretty straightforward fix and we need to take advantage of every opportunity to protect bull trout habitat.”

Based on input from Forest Service Hydrologist Chris Savage and Geo-technical Engineer Jim Nieman, Dekome said a project was devised with the goal of “stopping the bleeding of sediment into the stream.”

The first phase of the project, Dekome said, will be to “lay back the slope to an angle of repose.” Put simply, the road cut at Kickbush Gulch is like sitting in a lawn chair with a straight back. The desire is to get it to be like reclining in a chaise lounge. The excavated material will be stored for future use in other rehabilitation projects in Gold Creek.

A complex gabion wall with sufficient drainage will be built at the base of the slide along the road to help stabilize the slope, and a log grid structure will be put in place on the cut bank and re-vegetated with up to 1,356 trees and over 10,000 shrubs. The hillside will then be hydro-seeded this fall and again next spring.

“The beauty of this design,” Kramer said, “is if we get native vegetation established on that slope, it becomes a self-maintaining system.”

“Lake Pend Oreille is important to the survival of bull trout,” Dekome remarked. “It’s a stronghold for the species and really important across the board. So this is a critical project, both for bull trout and as a safety factor for people, since this is the main road to Lakeview.”

Chris Downs agreed. “That slide has been there a long time. In addition to the chronic input of fine sediment, if the entire slope were to slide into Kickbush Gulch, there could be serious impacts to  bull trout just downstream in Gold Creek. Bull trout have been able to persist in the face of this continual sediment source, but it has been a long term, chronic threat. This project will deal with the slide once and for all.”

Work at Kickbush Slide is slated to begin in July.

 

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Dennis Nicholls Dennis Nicholls was the founder, publisher, janitor and paperboy of the River Journal from 1993 to 2001. He passed away in 2009.

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