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Building great habitat for our unique Kootenai River fish
September 1, 2017
Kootenai River Restoration Project
By Susan Ireland
Fish and Wildlife Department Director
Kootenai Tribe of Idaho

The Kootenai Tribe is building a project to increase and improve habitat for Kootenai River white sturgeon, burbot and other native fish. Construction of the project, which is upstream from Bonners Ferry between river miles 153.5 and 155, began in late August.

The Lower Meander Project is part of the Tribe’s Kootenai River Habitat Restoration Program and will be the tenth project to be built under this program since 2011.

The project will include excavation of two pools, construction of three large spurs, enhancement of six river islands, bank restoration, installation of wood structures, and revegetation.

The two excavated pools will expand a string of pools created through the shallow braided reach of the river. These pools provide places for fish to rest and feed as they move up and down the river, and also a place for sturgeon and burbot to stage when they are getting ready to spawn.

Example of construction of a pool-forming spur.
To help maintain the excavated pools, three large pool-forming spurs will be built. These spurs, which are shaped like a fish fin and jut into the river at angle from the bank, will also protect the streambanks from erosion and create eddies where fish congregate.

Materials excavated from the two pools will be used to build up the elevation of six existing islands. This will provide floodplain surfaces that can support native vegetation at a range of managed flows. Vegetated floodplains help contribute nutrients, plant debris and insects that improve the food web to help feed fish and other organisms.

In the channel that runs between the islands, a number of large wood structures will be built to create scour pools used by fish.

A length of streambank will also be graded to help minimize erosion and create more floodplain surfaces. Old car bodies and other debris will be removed and the area will be planted with native plants and seeds. The new plants on the islands and streambanks will be protected from deer, beaver, geese and other wildlife using a combination of fencing, individual plant enclosures and brush bundles.

Brush bundles prior to installation. The brush bundles are not intended to grow; their purpose is to shield live plants from deer and other wildlife.
The brush bundles are a technique that was used successfully on a constructed island across from the Kootenai River Inn in 2015. Conifer branches and other dead plant materials are placed in protective bundles around the newly planted live trees and shrubs.

After a while the conifer's needles and other materials turn brown, but the protected plants inside the bundle are alive and growing. You can still see some of these brown bundles on the islands across from the Kootenai River Inn. The plants inside are growing bigger and stronger with every month and will eventually grow through their brown protective bundles.

The habitat restoration program compliments the Kootenai Tribe’s conservation aquaculture program, which annually releases Kootenai River white sturgeon and burbot into the river.

The habitat improvements will help these hatchery-reared fish to thrive in the river and reproduce on their own.

Construction of the Lower Meander Project will occur in the summer and fall of 2017 and 2018. Funding for the habitat program comes from the Bonneville Power Administration through the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program.

Plants growing between brush and inside browse protector cages on island in front of Kootenai River Inn, July 2017.
The Northwest Power Act of 1984 required that funding to mitigate for harm caused to fish, wildlife and their habitats by construction and operation of the federal Columbia River hydropower system be built into regional power rates. Electricity in the Pacific Northwest is among the least expensive electricity in the U.S. due to the Columbia River hydropower system, including Libby Dam.

The Bonneville Power Administration provides approximately $250 million annually in mitigation funding. This money is distributed throughout the entire Columbia River basin through a competitive process managed by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, which incorporates science and policy reviews of all proposals.

The Kootenai Tribe competed for and won funding for the Kootenai River Habitat Restoration Program through this process.

Construction updates and other information about this project and the Kootenai River Habitat Restoration Program will be posted on the Tribe’s website at
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