ARLEE – A thousand feet of the Jocko River is flowing through a new channel thanks to the work of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes’ Habitat Restoration and Fisheries Programs. The “Jocko River Restoration Improvements” project was launched in June as large amounts of soil and debris were swept downstream.
Restoration Botanist Rusty Sydnor said action needed to be taken. “The channel had become heavily eroded and we were concerned about the impact it would have on the Fish Hatchery downstream,” he said. “We needed to create a completely new channel for the river to flow with the least habitat disturbance for the fish and wildlife.”
The Jocko River is a major tributary of the Flathead River and is considered the “core area” for endangered bull trout. Sydnor said the Natural Resources Department’s Habitat Restoration program has been using heavy equipment to dig a new channel while building an improved river bank. “We built structures from cobble stone along the riverbank to secure the new channel and prevent erosion,” he said. “This is important habitat. We are planting cotton wood and willow, which will eventually grow along with other vegetation. There are many factors to take into consideration when designing a project like this.”
Syndor said season water flows impacted the restoration project. “We needed to work around high flows to get the job done,” he said. “In the early spring you get runoff and we had to postpone some of the work but it was a short runoff season and the waters didn’t get as high as usual. We also had to wait to cut the trees for their dormant season to add to our riverbank projects. Our goal is to return the river to its meander flow and state.”
An excavator closed off and secured the old channel, as the stream flowed down its new course without a hitch. In a final but significant phase of the project, Tribal Fisheries employees used hand held fish stunners to scan the shallow trenches of the old channel. When stunned temporarily, any remaining fish float to the surface and are caught with a net to be relocated to the new channel. The process is used to humanely transport fish.
Fisheries Technician Mountain Wahl said the process is all in a day’s work for the Tribal Fisheries Program. “We work in all the creeks and waterways on the reservation to protect the fish because they are an important resource,” he said. Fellow technician Vincent Shepard added that their work is culturally significant. “We need to keep our waterways Native,” he said.
The “Jocko River Restoration Improvement” project was made possible through a collaboration of Natural Resources Department’s Habitat and Restoration Program, The Tribal Fisheries Program, and the Shoreline Protection Program.