Monday, October 01, 2007

Kokanee in Ball Creek

On a recent trip to Ball Creek Ranch in the heart of the Kootenai Valley in Idaho's Panhandle, I was anticipating seeing many of the same species that regular come into view through my binoculars. While I did glass across the fields and wetlands to see whitetail and waterfowl, it was a splash in the creek and a pink streak moving up Ball Creek that inspired awe.

Justin Petty, Inland Northwest land steward recently discovered kokanee salmon spawning in the creek that runs through the yard of the ranch house. This is Justin’s third fall living on the ranch and the first time he’s seen kokanee, a landlocked sockeye salmon, spawning in the creek. As one can imagine, Justin was very excited to see the fish and made it a habit of checking the fish as they fan out their nest or “redds” to lay their eggs in the gravel creek bottom.

On one such visit to the creek, Justin ran into the neighboring farmer who was beside himself at the sight of the fish. The farmer, who has lived in the valley his entire life, didn’t remember the last time he saw kokanee in the creek. The farmer then went on to speak to Justin about how important he feels it is to restore and protect habitat in the valley for kokanee and other native species.

The Kootenai River kokanee that historically spawned in tributaries like Ball and Trout creeks (the southern and northern boundaries of the ranch) spend their adult life in the southern arm of Kootenay Lake in British Columbia. Yet just twenty years ago a report from the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho noted kokanee runs in these creeks were thought to be “functionally extinct.” However, recent habitat improvement projects in the creeks appear to be creating the desired conditions to host the return of salmon spawning. Time and the continuing restoration and habitat protection efforts of the Conservancy and its partners, like the neighboring farmer, will tell. --Steve Grourke

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