Accomplishments of the Bighorn River Alliance

On a routine basis the Alliance reviews data and documents, participates in meettings of FWP biological studies, fish census surveys, and angling pressure data and other management issues in order to better understand our resource. Our members in turn participate in public comment periods, aid in influencing decision makers and serve as a watchdogs for the Bighorn River resource and fishery. The results that we find lead to a variety of projects below is a few of our accomplishments.

Minimum Water Flows – The Alliance has organized a letter writing campaign to encourage support for Senate bill S.307, a bill introduced by Max Baucus and John Tester, which would establish preferred minimum river flows at 2,500 cfs. The Alliance has participated in numerous interagency and public meetings regarding the river flow management policies of the Bureau of Reclamation. BurRec’s policies have been extremely detrimental to the overall health of the Bighorn River fishery in the last decade.

Bighorn Side Channel Projects – Cline’s side channel has been excavated and water is now flowing again!

The Bighorn River Side Channel Restoration Group has received funding and has secured all permits needed to proceed with its pilot project. The project will remove invasive plant species and sediment deposits that have resulted in the disappearance of the side channels of the Bighorn River. The project will reestablish fish habitat, angling opportunities, and help preserve the local, fly fishing destination based economy. Two of the larger and longer of the river side channels known as the Picture channel and Cline’s channel were selected as the project areas because they will have the most impact in reestablishing habitat. The work in Cline’s channel has been completed and excavation in the Picture channel will hopefully happen soon.

The fishermen have lost the use of the side channel areas that once provided extraordinary dry fly and nymph fishing opportunities. The loss of the side channel spawn habitat and fish rearing areas for the development of young trout has been detrimental to the health of the Bighorn River’s fish population. The degradation of the fishing experience has an impact on the entire economy of southeastern Montana. The hydrology of the Bighorn River has been changed by the loss of the side channels as the main stem of the river must carry all of the river flow. The increase in the velocity of the main stem has caused major bank erosion particularly during high spring flows. This project will reestablish the side channels to help spread out and slow the river.

The invasive Russian Olive and Salt Cedar are known to be very inefficient users of water and quickly become so numerous that the use of the land for agriculture and grazing is lost. Fishermen cannot walk the riverbanks because they are blocked by thorny barricades and bird hunters cannot penetrate the dense growth. The invasive species will be physically removed from the side channels to stop river current restriction and sediment deposition. The sediment and river materials that restrict river flow in the entry areas of the side channels will be excavated. The effects of the project work will be part of a continuing Bureau of Reclamation river flow study and future side channel projects are planned.

The participants in the Bighorn River Side Channel Restoration Group include the Western Area Power Administration agency of the US Department of Energy. The WAPA schedules the electricity generation at the Yellowtail Dam, is dedicated to water conservation and has provided project funding. The Bureau of Reclamation has engineered the side channel sediment removal. The USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Service quantified and mapped the invasive species removal areas. The Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks has helped to acquire funding and permits. The Bighorn County Conservation District Council brings expertise in technical, permitting and funding issues. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has participated as the project area lies entirely within the boundaries of the Crow Indian Reservation. The Great Plains Fish Habitat Partnership has also helped with project funding.

Invasive Species – Invasive Species – BRA board member, Dennis Fischer, has organized an “invasive species” eradication program and is working with Federal, State, County and Tribal officials to address the issue of excessive Salt Cedar and Russian Olive trees on the banks of the Bighorn River. A project is planned for the 2011 season to eradicate these species on the Big Horn River Access property. With the cooperation of the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks the Alliance will provide manpower and will provide the funding for rental equipment.

Boat Ramp Improvements – In1998 and again in 2013 the Big Horn River Alliance donated $ 5,000.00 toward the construction of a new boat ramp at Bighorn Access and allowing that project to become a reality. The new ramps have proved to be a wonderful improvement to the access site.