WRC Blog

Ensuring Healthy Headwaters for Idaho’s Middle Fork Salmon River

Jul 27th, 2018  |  Written by Western Rivers Conservancy

Ensuring Healthy Headwaters for Idaho’s Middle Fork Salmon River
Photo by Kirk Anderson

This month, Western Rivers Conservancy launched an effort that will revitalize a series of crucial salmon and steelhead streams in the very headwaters of Idaho’s famed Middle Fork Salmon River. The project will conserve 159 acres of prime fish and wildlife habitat and allow us to return critically needed water to Knapp and Marsh creeks.

The property we’re working to conserve is known as Cape Horn Ranch, a rare private inholding within the Salmon-Challis National Forest, between the Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness and the Sawtooth Wilderness Area, northwest of Stanley. The ranch controls senior water rights to Knapp Creek, which flows into Marsh Creek and its complex of fragile alpine wetlands.

Downstream of the ranch, Marsh Creek joins Bear Valley Creek, and their confluence marks the beginning of the Middle Fork Salmon, one of the most isolated, pristine and storied rivers in the Lower 48. The salmon and steelhead that make their way up the Middle Fork and arrive at these creeks journey over 900 miles to get there, in one of longest anadromous journeys on Earth.

The water right controlled by Cape Horn Ranch currently diverts up to 75 percent of Knapp Creek’s flow during irrigation season, the same time of year that salmon return to Knapp and Marsh creeks to spawn. WRC purchased the ranch in July and is partnering with the Idaho Water Resources Board to permanently dedicate that water in-stream, ensuring salmon and steelhead have the water they need after their epic journey inland to spawn.

In addition to ensuring year-round flows in Knapp and Marsh creeks, WRC’s efforts will protect more than a half-mile of designated critical habitat for Snake River Chinook and steelhead, as well as prime habitat for federally listed bull trout. We will also conserve portions of Asher Creek, another stream flowing into the Marsh Creek wetlands complex.

Our efforts at Cape Horn Ranch follow on the heels of WRC’s recent success at Goat Falls Ranch, which was Idaho’s first-ever water rights acquisition to permanently dedicate water in-stream. The ranch lies southeast of Sun Valley, in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, and is home to Goat and Meadow creeks, two key Sawtooth Valley streams that flow to the Salmon River. We are excited to replicate that success for the Middle Fork Salmon, and help improve the odds for this mighty river’s namesake fish.