U.S., Trout Unlimited eye stream restoration on forest lands

FILE - This undated photo provided by the U.S. Forest Service shows a bull trout in the Little Lost River in Idaho. U.S. officials on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, have announced a five-year, $40 million agreement with the conservation group Trout Unlimited to improve watersheds on national forests and grasslands containing key habitat for trout and salmon. (Bart Gamett/U.S. Forest Service via AP, File)
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KEITH RIDLER

Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — U.S. officials on Wednesday announced a five-year, $40 million agreement with the conservation group Trout Unlimited to improve watersheds on national forests and grasslands that contain key habitat for trout and salmon.

The U.S. Forest Service said Wednesday the agreement includes cleaning up abandoned mines, removing barriers to fish passage and other stream habitat improvements. The agency said that more than 40% of trout streams in the U.S. flow through nearly 200 million acres of national forests and grasslands.

“Our agreement with Trout Unlimited continues our joint success as stewards of national forests and grasslands,” Forest Service Chief Randy Moore said in a statement. “Our partnership is not just about cleaning a stream or increasing fish population. It’s life sustaining work that is as vital to aquatic species as it is to people and communities. When our natural resources are healthy, we are healthy as a nation and as individuals.”

The agency said the money for the five-year National Watershed and Aquatic Restoration Initiative comes from the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Joe Biden last year.

The initiative aims to increase the pace and scale of watershed restoration, the agency said, noting priority will be given to projects that use local employees and contractors to improve water quality in underserved communities and on Tribal lands.

Trout Unlimited is a national non-profit with 300,000 members and supporters working to conserve, protect and restore cold-water fisheries and watersheds in North America, mostly in the Western U.S.

That has included the Forest Service and Trout Unlimited working with the Nez Perce Tribe in northern Idaho to improve habitat in the Clearwater Basin, an important system for trout and federally protected salmon and steelhead.

Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited, said the group’s long history of working with the Forest Service has led to restoring more than 400 miles (650 kilometers) of fish habitat, reconnected more than 700 miles (1,100 kilometers) of habitat by removing fish barriers, and improved hundreds of thousands of acres of National Forest System lands.

“We are excited to continue and expand on this work over the coming years,” Wood said.

The group said native trout and salmon face challenges that include global warming. It said it’s working to identify a national network of priority waters where it can use the $40 million to protect and restore streams to improve fish populations, resilience and productivity.