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Restoring Wetland and Riparian Habitats at Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge

Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge, spanning approximately 2,700 acres within the Kootenai River floodplain, serves as a haven for wetland habitats. Established in 1964, its initial purpose was to provide a sanctuary for resting and breeding waterfowl while mitigating potential crop damage in the surrounding area. Over time, the refuge's objectives have expanded to include the preservation of diverse flora and fauna, management-oriented research, and the provision of habitat for endangered species. Additionally, the refuge offers various visitor services, encompassing hunting, wildlife observation, photography, environmental education, interpretation, and fishing.

Sandhill cranes are a relatively uncommon bird species in the Idaho panhandle, and there have been scattered nesting records in the region. However, based on our records at the refuge, this year marks a significant occurrence. We are delighted to report the sighting of a sandhill crane colt, which is the first documented sighting of its kind since 1992

The sighting of a sandhill crane colt is an encouraging sign, as it suggests that the refuge is providing suitable habitat and resources for these remarkable birds to reproduce and raise their young. It is a testament to our conservation efforts and the importance of preserving and protecting the natural habitats within the refuge.

Importance of Wetland and Riparian Habitats: Wetland and riparian habitats serve as critical resources for a wide range of aquatic species and migratory birds. These habitats provide essential elements such as water, food, and shelter, contributing to the overall health and diversity of wildlife populations. Recognizing the significance of these habitats, Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge is actively working to restore and conserve them.

Restoration Partnerships: Collaboration is key to the success of habitat restoration initiatives. At Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge, partnerships have been established with organizations such as the Kootenai River Habitat Restoration Program (KRHRP) and the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho. These partnerships aim to rejuvenate both forested and wetland habitats within the refuge.

Objectives and Actions for Restoration: The restoration efforts undertaken at the refuge are guided by specific objectives to enhance habitat diversity and promote ecosystem function. The proposed actions include:

Replacing outdated diversion structures and breaching berms to improve floodplain connectivity and facilitate sediment deposition. b. Restoring and maintaining optimal water levels to support wetland habitats. c. Enhancing specific ponds such as Cascade Pond and Cottonwood Pond through structural modifications and the promotion of woody wetland vegetation. d. Assessing opportunities for habitat restoration along Myrtle Creek, including the creation of side channels and vegetation management.

In 2023, Deferred Maintenance funds were secured to enhance our facilities at Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge. These funds are specifically designated to address the repair and replacement needs of aging infrastructure and associated habitats. Thanks to the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA), which significantly increased available funds for Deferred Maintenance projects, we were able to access additional resources.

To efficiently carry out these improvements, we have opted to implement the project using equipment and operators from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). This approach has proven to be cost-effective, saving taxpayers a significant amount of money. The skilled USFWS equipment operators are experienced in this type of work, particularly in wetland projects. By utilizing the USFWS team, we anticipate substantial cost savings of over 60%, amounting to approximately $600,000. The projected budget for the project is $375,000, whereas the estimated cost for outsourcing the work through a contract was estimated at $988,000.

By leveraging these funding opportunities and adopting efficient implementation methods, we can make substantial improvements to our facilities while being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars.

Site 1: Cascade Creek

Existing Conditions & Limiting Factors:

  • Cascade Creek's alluvial fan below Westside Road.

  • Flows in Cascade Creek are intermittent.

  • Lack of regeneration of cedars, resulting in decadent vegetation.

  • Damaged diversion structure that supplies water to Cascade and Cottonwood Ponds.

  • Berms around constructed ponds limit connectivity of the alluvial fan, particularly at West Moose Pond.

Proposed Actions:

  • Replace the diversion structure in Cascade Creek, ensuring upstream fish passage and egress to downstream ponds and Myrtle Creek.

  • Breech the berms at West Moose Pond to restore connectivity with the alluvial fan.

  • Restore alluvial fan connectivity by promoting the movement of water and sediment.

  • Place large wood pieces in the floodplain to facilitate natural processes and capture additional debris.

These proposed actions aim to address the existing limitations and improve the overall health and functionality of the Cascade Creek area. By replacing the damaged diversion structure, fish passage can be restored, allowing for improved aquatic habitat connectivity. Breeching the berms will promote natural processes and enhance the connectivity of the alluvial fan, benefiting both vegetation and wildlife. Additionally, the placement of large wood pieces in the floodplain will contribute to the overall health of the ecosystem by facilitating sediment deposition and providing habitat for various species

Site 2: Cascade Pond

Existing Conditions & Limiting Factors:

  • Cascade Pond is a constructed pond that receives water from the Cascade Creek diversion.

  • It drains north to Cottonwood Pond and south to Cascade Creek.

  • The pond has limited woody vegetation due to dense RCG (Reed Canary Grass).

  • A harmful algal bloom occurred in 2021.

Proposed Actions:

  • Lower the berms and bridge approach fill area to enhance the natural flow of water.

  • Create conditions that support the growth of woody vegetation around the pond.

  • Maintain the north outlet elevation to support the wetlands located to the north of the pond.

  • Remove RCG on the berms and introduce trees and shrubs to restore woody vegetation.

  • Plant dense brush to deter browsing by wildlife.

These proposed actions aim to address the limitations of Cascade Pond and enhance its ecological function. Lowering the berms and adjusting the fill area will improve water flow dynamics and promote the establishment of diverse vegetation around the pond. By maintaining the north outlet elevation, the wetlands adjacent to the pond will be supported, further enhancing habitat diversity. Removing the dense RCG and introducing woody vegetation will contribute to the overall health of the pond ecosystem. Additionally, planting dense brush will help deter browsing by wildlife, ensuring the growth and survival of the newly established vegetation.

Site 3: Cottonwood Pond

Existing Conditions & Limiting Factors:

  • Cottonwood Pond is a constructed pond with a water control structure at the outlet.

  • The water supply comes from Cascade Pond and groundwater sources.

  • The pond is influenced by the backwater of the Kootenai River.

  • It drains to Myrtle Creek via an outlet structure.

  • There is a low berm on the north side of the pond.

  • Cottonwood, alder, and other vegetation are present around the edges of the pond, but there is also the presence of bullrush and RCG (Reed Canary Grass) within the pond.

Proposed Actions:

  • Replace the outlet structure with a natural channel that connects to Myrtle Creek, promoting a more natural flow of water.

  • Place large wood in the outlet channel to enhance stability and create habitat for aquatic species.

  • Lower the water surface elevation to facilitate the restoration of woody wetland vegetation.

  • Raise the berm on the north end of the pond using materials excavated from other project sites.

These proposed actions aim to improve the ecological condition of Cottonwood Pond. By replacing the outlet structure with a natural channel, the pond will have a more natural hydrological connection to Myrtle Creek, allowing for improved water flow and ecosystem functioning. The addition of large wood in the outlet channel will provide stability and create valuable habitat for aquatic species. Lowering the water surface elevation will promote the growth of woody wetland vegetation, enhancing habitat diversity and ecological function. Lastly, raising the berm on the north end of the pond will help manage water levels and further support the wetland environment.

Site 4: Myrtle Creek

Existing Conditions & Limiting Factors:

  • Myrtle Creek is located in the lower reaches, south of the Cascade Creek mouth.

  • The creek is influenced by the backwater of the Kootenai River.

  • There is an auto-tour route levee on the east side of the creek.

  • The floodplain is dominated by Reed Canary Grass (RCG).

Proposed Actions:

  • Selectively remove RCG to create favorable conditions for the re-establishment of woody vegetation.

  • Place excess material along Myrtle Creek and plant it with brush, promoting the growth of native vegetation.

  • Consider the possibility of creating a seasonal side channel on the west side of the creek to enhance habitat diversity and ecological function.

The proposed actions for Myrtle Creek focus on restoring and enhancing the habitat conditions along the creek. By selectively removing RCG, space will be created for the re-establishment of woody vegetation, which is important for providing cover and food sources for various wildlife species. Placing excess material along the creek and planting it with brush will further enhance the habitat and promote the growth of native plants, contributing to the overall ecological health of the area. Additionally, the consideration of a seasonal side channel aims to increase habitat diversity and support a wider range of species.

Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge's commitment to restoring and enhancing wetland and riparian habitats is commendable. Through partnerships, strategic actions, and ongoing monitoring efforts, the refuge is actively working to preserve these crucial ecosystems and promote the well-being of wildlife populations. By recognizing the value of these habitats and implementing innovative solutions, Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge sets an inspiring example for conservation initiatives.


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