Just upstream from Superior, Cedar Creek tumbles into the Clark Fork River from its headwaters in the shadow of the Montana-Idaho border. For centuries, bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout have spawned in the clear, cold waters of this stream. Today, it is one of only four viable bull trout spawning streams in the entire middle reach of the Clark Fork. And it may be the only major tributary to the Clark Fork in that reach that harbors only native species. It is key to the health and vitality of the cold-water fishery of the Clark Fork.
At the request of the U. S. Forest Service (USFS) and the Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks (FWP), in 2004 Five Valleys facilitated the public acquisition of 204 acres along a five-mile stretch of Cedar Creek that contains the key spawning habitats for westslope cutthroat and bull trout.
Five Valleys worked in collaboration with the Lolo National Forest, FWP, and a conservation-minded landowner to assure that the property would move into public ownership and be managed to protect the critical fish habitat. The land was made up of several patented mining claims that had been held by the same family for nearly a century. It was the landowner’s wish to assure that the land could once again become part of the public domain, and that it would be managed to protect its important habitat values, while offering opportunities for public recreation and enjoyment.
With the help of a substantial contribution from the Westslope Chapter of Trout Unlimited to cover appraisal costs and an option consideration, Five Valleys entered into an agreement with the landowner for the purchase of the property. Along with those partner agencies and the Westslope Chapter of TU, Five Valleys was able to put together a package of funding to complete the purchase in early 2006. Funding came from the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, and Northwestern Energy as mitigation for the long-term downstream effects of Milltown Dam.
The property was transferred to the USFS at closing, and has since been managed cooperatively by the Superior Ranger District, emphasizing the protection and enhancement of the cold water habitat. With assistance from Trout Unlimited and FWP’s future fisheries program, restoration projects have been completed to stabilize banks, enhance woody debris important for bull trout, as well as removing some roads, campsites, and other human disturbances. Cedar Creek is a key element in maintaining the overall health of the lower Clark Fork for generations to come.
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