Panther Creek Passage Barrier Removal

Project abstract: 

On August 6, 2011, Yakama Nation Fisheries, Yakama Reservation Watersheds Project (YRWP) completed the implementation of a restoration action at two road/stream interfaces on Panther Creek to improve stream function and facilitate fish movement. Sites within the Panther Creek watershed have been degraded due to various human activities (e.g., grazing, road building, and logging). These problems are most obvious at the site on Panther Creek where Fort Simcoe Road # 80 transects T10N, R13E Section 13 and further downstream in T10N, R13E Section 26. The Fort Simcoe Road # 80 crossing bisects an elongated wet meadow. At the culvert outlet, there was a scour pool and culvert drop height of about 1 foot. Westslope cutthroat trout congregated in the scour pool below, indicating that this crossing is likely a fish barrier. The channel is incised by about 1-3 feet downstream of the road and approximately 1-2 feet in areas upstream from the road. Small head cuts and stream bank erosion are apparent in the meadow. Further downstream, another scour pool is at the base of a culvert and drops between 0.5 and 1 foot.
Although westslope cutthroat were collected during electrofishing surveys both downstream and upstream of these two stream crossings, fish passage may be obstructed seasonally to adults and likely year round to smaller individuals. The culverts also obstruct bed-load and large woody debris transport as indicated by its accumulation at the culvert inlets. By removing these two culverts, Endangered Species Act listed steelhead will likely benefit from the improvement of stream function, a reduction in fine sediment, and an increase in base flows resulting from the restoration of natural wet meadow hydrology. Additional wildlife and plant species may benefit as well.

Project goals: 

Remove fish passage barriers at two sites on Panther Creek, exclude livestock and feral horses from meadow complex, and provide stream crossings for vehicle use.

Project plan: 

Two culverts were identified as fish passage barriers and were removed and replaced by armored rock fords.  Sites were re-vegetated using a grass seed mix representative of the existing composition of plant species.  In addition to removing the two culverts, YRWP installed exclosure fence to exclude livestock grazing around the wet meadow present at the Fort Road #80 crossing.  The upper half of Panther Creek flows though several small coniferous wet meadows that have seen notable encroachment by surrounding lodgepole pine stands and have been impacted by extensive livestock grazing.

YRWP removed the culvert where Fort Simcoe Road crosses Panther Creek. In its place, an armored rock ford was constructed at the proper angle and grading to allow crossing by most vehicles including trucks and logging equipment. Constructed riffle and inverted rock weirs were constructed below the crossing (between 5 and 50 feet downstream) with drops of less than 0.5 feet to allow passage of adult and larger juvenile fish from winter through early summer. The plunge pool was partially filled with gravel and woody debris was placed at the meander bend to encourage bank stability and reduce the potential for avulsion into and through the meadow. Equipment used for construction included a small excavator, a dump truck, a water truck, and road grader. The rock needed for the ford was obtained from the Lincoln Meadows rock quarry, while other road construction materials were obtained from the Yakama Nation at nearby quarries.   

YRWP removed the existing double culvert configuration and replaced it with another armored rock ford. The construction was completed at an angle and grade approved for vehicle travel including trucks and logging equipment. Equipment used for construction included a small excavator, a dump truck, a water truck, and road grader. Areas of the stream channel disturbed during construction were stabilized with a combination of large wood, rock, and coir fabric.

Project progress: 

Immediately after project implementation, a cutthroat trout was observed (and filmed) crossing the armored ford located at the Fort Simcoe Road #80 meadow crossing. Panther Creek is a headwater tributary of Toppenish Creek, which drains much of the north east corner of the Yakama Reservation. It begins at an elevation of 4950 and terminates about 4.5 miles downstream at its confluence with Toppenish Creek (elev. 4000). Several small tributaries enter Panther Creek along its course including Pile-up Mosquito Creek, and an un-named perennial stream. Toppenish Creek provides important spawning and rearing habitat for Mid-Columbia ESU steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss), which are listed as threatened under the endangered species act. Spawning and rearing habitat for this species extends approximately up to the confluences of Panther Creek and Toppenish Creek in T10N. R13E  Section 25 SW 1/4. YRWP staff are confident that this project will be a succes.

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