Watershed committee works to improve Big Hole region

Casey S. Elliott
Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The nonprofit Big Hole Watershed Committee (BHWC) continues to work to improve habitat for wildlife in the mountainous regions that flow into the Big Hole River. Many of the projects for the organization focus on cleaning up rivers that ran clogged with sediment after logging denuded hillsides throughout the region, destroying native populations and impacting area wildlife.

BHWC Executive Director Pedro Marques said projects often start at the headwaters of a river, planting native vegetation and creating beaver-like dams to limit runoff while that vegetation establishes itself. Over time, nature does the rest.

“We figure out strategies and ways to actively improve the watershed and improve fish populations,” he said. That includes bringing together people from a variety of organizations – and in terms of the Big Hole River, local ranchers – and helping them see how they can work together toward a common goal.

One example is the Sugarloaf Mountain, California Creek and French Creek areas, which were decimated from logging and mining during the Anaconda smelter operational years. BHWC is working on a number of projects in that region to restore rivers and habitat for local wildlife populations and fish such as the arctic grayling.

“If we can get grayling established in California Creek, and every tributary down from here, it will go a long way toward restoring not only the grayling, but cutthroat trout, also,” he said. “If the fish get established here, they will populate the Big Hole from here on out.”

That region supports 40 miles of tributaries – which all drain into the Big Hole River, Marques said.

“Some of the landscape bounced back without our intervention, but we’re not interested in waiting thousands of years,” Marques added. “Nature eventually finds a way to heal, but we like to give it a kickstart where it’s needed.”

This year is the 25th anniversary of the BHWC. For more information, visit bhwc.org.