The years have not been kind to the Clark Fork Delta. Decades of altered water fluctuations from the Albeni Falls Dam and the Cabinet Gorge Dam have taken its toll on the islands, peninsulas, wetlands and the fish and wildlife habitats in its area. As a result, the delta’s islands and shorelines have eroded, and the quality of fish and wildlife habitats have diminished. Situated on the eastern shore of Lake Pend Oreille, the area is a connection between mountain ranges, and it provides nutrients and moves sediment that affect water quality. It is also culturally important to many of the region’s tribes.
The Bonneville Power Administration and Avista Corporation have a federal obligation to mitigate the impacts the dams have on the fish and wildlife resources and so are funding the restoration of the delta. The restoration is being spear-headed by the Idaho Fish and Game and is a huge undertaking, said lead biologist for the project, Kathy Cousins.
“It’s a complicated project - there are 13 different partners and several landowners,” she said.
Cousins has been working for 10 years on the restoration project, but it was only recently that data was collected and a pilot project completed in the Pack River delta during 2008 to 2009 that proved the work could be performed. She conducted surveys with regards to vegetation, aviation quality and the deterioration of small mammals in the delta’s region. “Initially, it was deemed that restoration of these low lying areas was not feasible,” Cousins said. “It was only recently when we ventured into the Pack River delta and now into the Clark Fork that we showed people it was possible to salvage the habitats that had been scoured away.”
Much of the larger restoration work was done over the winter when water levels were low. Construction crews moved several thousand tons of rock to raise the delta’s water levels.
“You don’t see much now because the rock work done to raise the ground above full pool is hidden underwater,” she said. “It’s more visible in the winter when the rock is a story or so above your head.”
Construction crews used woody debris and rock to reinforce shorelines. The raised ground will help in creating new wetlands and plant and wildlife habitats. Crews have also constructed Bendway weirs, which are low dams that slow down the speed of water currents to reduce erosion. The weirs are made from crushed rock pushed out into the river. Logs are added at the end to slow the water.
Cousins said, “It is expected that in three to five years the vegetation cover on the newly created island areas will be diverse and dense enough to support healthy breeding and migratory waterfowl populations.”
Community Support for the Restoration
In addition to the Clark Fork Delta agencies involved in the restoration project, many community volunteers, including area schools, have been working on planting new vegetation. Cousins visited several schools, among them, recruited Clark Fork High School.
K.C. MacDonald, a junior and high school teacher of history, government, citizenship and political science spoke with Cousins about volunteer opportunities for their students. “Because of my citizenship class, it was right up our alley,” he said.
The class made up a schedule, and there was a leadership team of students that organized smaller groups. Other teachers at the school also selected students and created an “All-Star Team” to volunteer. The students worked on an area by the Clark Fork Drift Yard by Highway 200 for six days throughout the month of May, about two times per week. They planted 8,300 plants, trees and shrubs that can be seen from the highway.
“I don’t think anyone knew what was happening. Kathy (Cousins) said that the erosion affects 15 acres per year. That got everyone’s attention really fast,” MacDonald said. “It really connected with the kids … because it’s their backyard. The kids were asking when we’d come back.”
Leslie Kiebert, a junior, was one of MacDonald’s students and group leaders. “I decided to participate because I love being outdoors and being able to help the environment whenever I can,” she said.
Although some of the students were familiar with the area from fishing and hunting trips, Leslie was new to it. She is proud of the work she did to help the project and has plans to venture back to it again.
“It is such a beautiful area and will be lush with greens in the next year,” she said. “I’m glad I could be a part of it now so that I can look back and tell my own kids that I helped restore the delta.”
For more information or to volunteer, see clarkforkdelta.org.