Farewell delta extraordinaire Kathy Cousins

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We just learned that our local delta restoration expert, Kathy Cousins, will be leaving Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) for a new and exciting career opportunity. This is sad news for us and the fish and wildlife of the Clark Fork/Pend Oreille Basin, but on the bright side, we know she will doing great work wherever she goes. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Kathy and her work, she is known for her groundbreaking work on the restoration of the Pack River Delta and the Clark Fork Delta. Both deltas provide exceptionally valuable wildlife habitat, and both were experiencing extreme erosion and habitat loss, beginning with the construction and subsequent operations of Albeni Falls and Cabinet Gorge dams in the 1950s. We have counted on and appreciated Kathy’s expertise and updates for ten plus years now, in our efforts to let the community know about restoration work benefiting the Pend Oreille Basin.

Kathy Cousins is truly one of kind. She is not only a passionate scientist, she is an excellent project manager. Both the Pack River Delta Restoration and the Clark Fork Delta Restoration projects were massive undertakings requiring extensive coordination, communication, and timing; with contractors, agency partners and volunteers. It required paying close attention to variable weather conditions and fluctuating lake levels, knowledge of local hydrology and delta ecology, detailed fiscal management and the ability to stop in the middle all this to speak publicly and passionately about the project.

In a system such as the Clark Fork/Pend Oreille Basin, where many dams have been built for flood control and hydropower production, mitigation work will occur. In our case, we receive mitigation dollars from either Avista (Cabinet Gorge Dam - Clark Fork River) or Bonneville Power Administration (Albeni Falls Dam - Lake Pend Oreille and the Pend Oreille River) for losses of fish and wildlife habitat occurring due to dam operations. Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG) is often the recipient of that funding in our region. For many years, instead of implementing restoration work, IDFG would purchase land as compensation. Kathy Cousins helped change that practice, which was controversial with some because it didn’t directly address the loss. She was instrumental in convincing the powers that be to repair and restore the Pack River Delta as a pilot project. Once this highly successful project was complete, it served as a prime example of how and why restoration work should be an accepted use of mitigation funds. The Pack River Delta served as the launching pad for future projects, such as the current Clark Fork Delta Restoration project, because it showcased a restored and functioning delta. Functioning deltas slow the velocity of water flowing from a river to a lake so that sediment and debris can be dropped out and deposited and vegetation can become established. All of these conditions filter nutrients and create a diverse habitat for wildlife to thrive. Take a paddle through the Pack River Delta to see for yourself.

Without Kathy’s tenacity and hard work, we would be without these two exemplary projects and lacking in important wildlife habitat. Thank you Kathy, you will be missed.

The Lakes Commission will be meeting on Oct. 4 in Sandpoint at the Columbia Bank Building from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

We were expecting to hear an update on the progress being made on the Clark Fork Delta restoration, but we will now be postponing that talk to the near future. We expect to hear about the Cabinet Gorge fish passage project, Aquatic Invasive Species, water rights adjudication in North Idaho, the Clark Ford Drift Yard, an update on Outlet Dam operations this year and a progress report on the Priest Lake Thorofare project.

Ford Elsaesser

Lakes Commission chair

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