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Trout Unlimited, Fish and Game, host local students at Trestle Creek

Staff Writer | September 16, 2022 1:00 AM

TRESTLE CREEK — Students from the Kalispel Language Survival School near Usk made the trip upstream in time for the yearly spawning of the kokanee salmon.

Trouts Unlimited, Idaho Fish and Game, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Idaho Conservation League gave the students an hour-long presentation on the fish and other wildlife in Trestle Creek, before guiding them to the shore where they could see dozens of the bright red fish as they fought for breeding grounds.

The morphology of Trestle Creek is ideal habitat for kokanee, as well as bull trout, due to the creek’s cool and clean water and its complexity and connectivity. The kokanee first made it to Lake Pend Oreille, biologists and historians believe, in a 1933 flood that washed them out from Flathead Lake and provided the connection for them to make it to North Idaho.

Amy Anderson, the educational outreach coordinator for Trout Unlimited, explained the life cycles, and habitat and feeding needs of kokanee and bull trout before representatives from Fish and Game taught the students how to identify the different species in order to prevent accidental poaching.

However, the fish were in trouble not too long ago. Kokanee populations had dropped exponentially in the 1990s and 2000s, according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. Trestle Creek was recognized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as critical bull trout habitat in 2010

The populations have started to rebound in recent years, after the population collapsed, Idaho Fish and Game began aggressively removing lake trout, which hunt the kokanee. As of 2019, kokanee, whose population sank to around an estimated 10,000 in 2007, now number an estimated 2.5 million in Lake Pend Oreille, according to data from the Idaho Fish and Game.

While the kokanee have been doing better, the other salmonid that uses Trestle Creek is a federally recognized endangered species. Bull trout require pristine waters with ample vegetation.

However, with the increase in mining operations in their headwaters, their pristine habitat started to decrease. And with climate change impacting summer flows, finding and accessing spawning grounds has become increasingly difficult for the endangered species. Bull trout had been a staple diet for the Kalispel for thousands of years.

Junior Bluff, the language director of KLSS, led the class in Salish. “These aay remember you. They remember your ancestors.”

Aay - pronounced ay-yee - is the Salish word for Bull trout.

Members of the Kalispel Tribe pass Trestle Creek each year in their annual paddle in dugout canoes when they retrace historical trade routes that connect the Kalispel territory and have been used to connect the nation for hundreds of years.

The critical habitat has come under threat in recent years due to the Idaho Club’s planned marina at the mouth of Trestle Creek. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Idaho Conservation League have filed suit to protect the habitat.

Center representative Whitney Palmer explained that the proposed docks would provide habitat for different fish that are not only predatory to kokanee but to juvenile bull trout as well. Furthermore, Palmer also argued that the impact of increased boat traffic on the pristine habitat also needs to be addressed.

ICL and the center have filed against the federal agencies to stop the project and allow for adequate legal review before construction begins where the kokanee and bull trout spawn each year.

Editor's note: A prior edition of this story wrongfully identified Amy Anderson as Amy Wolfe.