What's Happening at MSRF?
Whitefish Island Time Lapse (Updated!)
This time-lapse video shows construction at our Whitefish Island project and illustrates the changes we made to the habitat. For more information about Whitefish Island, check out the project archive.
Looking Back on 2013: Finished Construction
Construction has wrapped up in this year’s project areas. Our projects this year included reconnecting the Methow River to its historic floodplain along Old Twisp Highway, building more than 20 log jams in the side channel near the old MVID Methow River dam, and relocating a section of upper Beaver Creek from a roadside ditch to a re-created channel in its original floodplain.
Each project was designed primarily to restore habitat for native fish species, but great care was also taken in design and construction to make certain that these projects would also meet the needs of landowners and irrigators. At our upper Beaver Creek project, relocating the creek required us to rebuild the Batie diversion, intake, fish screen and about 700 feet of the irrigation ditch. This investment ensures that the irrigators will have continued reliable access to needed water, and allowed us to restore more than 2000 feet of the creek to a more natural alignment that will improve steelhead and salmon passage and survival.
While initial observations suggest that projects like Beaver Creek will benefit steelhead and salmon, the only way to know if our projects succeed over time is through careful monitoring. Our primary monitoring tool is to survey the number of fish in the project area before and after construction, but we also check for bank erosion, channel changes, vegetation response, and potential impacts to surrounding properties.
To ensure that the upper Beaver Creek project is successful, MSRF will monitor how the new channel changes over the next several years, how fish population in the creek change, and how well the new irrigation structures serve the irrigators.
It’s been a year since we finished the habitat project at Whitefish Island, and we’ve already observed a 5-7x increase in fish use in the reworked habitat. While we expect to see similar gains at this year’s projects along Old Twisp Highway, the real measure of success at both sites won’t be known for several more years. For this reason, MSRF will bw working closely with Washington Fish and Wildlife and USGS to comppare monitoring data for at least three more years at each site. This level of sustained monitoring at past project sites will allow us to refine our projects to focus on what has been proven to work, and adjust what hasn’t.
MSRF would like to thank the landowners, agencies, and contractors who worked with us this year for making our 2013 projects possible.
In the new year, we will continue to work with our parners to expand restoration efforts within the M2 reach (the Methow river between Twisp and Winthrop). We’re also gearing up for several larger habitat projects on the Twisp River.
If you have questions about past projects or would like additional information on planned efforts, please contact Brian Fisher at (509) 997-0028 or Chris Johnson at (509) 429-1232.
What do fish do in the winter?
Though the river looks inhospitable in the winter, with its frigid water and thick ice, fish activity continues. Juvenile salmon and steelhead that emerged last year remain in the river during the winter. Because these fish are exothermic (their body temperature is the same as that of the water around them), and because their food species are scarce, their metabolisms slow significantly during the winter months. They do continue to feed on algae, smaller fish, and insects, sometimes surfacing on cloudy days to eat hatching midges and stoneflies. Some fish seek out pockets of warmer water where groundwater seeps into the river, or conserve energy by burying themselves in cobbles or wood jams.
Not all fish slow down. Adult mountain whitefish, a close cousin to trout, remain active, migrating to spawn well into the winter. Spring Chinook salmon and bull trout eggs, laid last fall, continue to develop in gravel spawning nests (called redds) below the ice. They’ll hatch in the spring, triggered by warming water temperatures and longer periods of daylight.
Surveying fish populations in the winter is challenging, partly because much of the water is covered, and partly because the fish are so cold that they don’t move around much.
A small midge walks along the ice near Whitefish Island.
The ice itself is a powerful force in changing river habitats. Ice dams push ice and water into backwaters and floodplain areas. Moving ice scours existing channels and creates entirely new ones. During next year’s high water, fish will use the new habitats sculpted by this winter’s ice.
For past updates, please visit our archive.