Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Restoring connection - The Prichard Creek restoration

by ERIN PLUE Contributing Writer
| March 31, 2021 1:00 AM

In 2019, Idaho Forest Group, a Coeur d’Alene-based lumber company, embarked upon an unusual undertaking for an industrial timber landowner – to restore a stream extremely degraded by historic mining activities.

Prichard Creek is a tributary to the North Fork Coeur d’Alene River. It was the location where AJ Prichard first discovered placer gold in 1879 beginning the Coeur d’Alene mining rush. The watershed had several hard rock mines and mill sites in the 1900s that led to metals contamination in the water and sediment. Between 1917-1926 there was also a large in-stream placer dredge that turned over about five miles of the floodplain leaving an unrecognizable waterway. The waters flow underground for miles each summer and most of the stream lacks the rich floodplain habitat that was once likely vibrant with beavers, amphibians, and birds. Although the water is cold, the stream in its current state is not able to offer the refuge and abundance it once did.

But this is set to change.

IFG has teamed up with Trout Unlimited, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and Idaho Department of Fish and Game to restore Prichard Creek. IFG started the project off with a bang by partnering with Kaniksu Land Trust, placing nearly 2,000 acres of their property rights into a conservation easement, including nearly three-quarters of the entire stream, that will forever preserve this special spot for public recreation and education. Reid Ahlf, an IFG Forester who is working on the Prichard Creek project said “The easement will preserve the ecological value of the property while maintaining a sustainably managed working forest.” The easement also allows for secure investment in the project by funding partners, like the Restoration Partnership, because their contribution will be safe by restoring a site protected from future development or mining.

IFG, TU and the other project partners developed five major goals for this project:

• Protect resources.

• Connect waterways.

• Restore habitat.

• Enhance local communities.

• Collaborate with, and for, diverse interests and stakeholders.

Trout Unlimited recently developed a Coeur d’Alene Basin project manager position that is providing coordination and oversight for the project. TU has a legacy of reconnecting and restoring streams; and they are very excited to support this work in the Coeur d’Alene Basin.

The research and preliminary restoration planning phase is getting underway right now with funding provided by the Restoration Partnership. This phase will lead to a better understanding of the waterway and will develop a phased restoration plan to guide many years of future on-the-ground restoration projects. The project partners are hopeful that the first phase of restoration construction will start in the summer of 2022. Ahlf shared “IFG is excited to begin the process of restoring the aesthetics and enhancing the stream habitat of such an important tributary to the North Fork Coeur d’Alene River.”

TU, IFG, and the other project partners look forward to hosting many volunteer and education opportunities in the upcoming years. If you are interested in supporting healthy, cold-water streams by getting your boots muddy or just learning more about this project, please reach out to erin.plue@tu.org.