Watershed Improvement Project


High in Sapphire Mountains on the Bitterroot National Forest (BNF) lay the headwaters of Sleeping Child and Rye Creeks. Two streams impaired for sediment but still important habitat for Westslope Cutthroat trout and Sleeping Child is also spawning grounds for Bull trout.  Decades ago, when the land was privately owned, roads were built there to remove timber easily without resource considerations in mind.  Once an area was cleared of lumber, the roads were abandoned.


In 2000, raging fires decimated the area causing the already highly erosive soils to pour into these headwater streams.  Culverts filled with dirt while water continued to make its way down the landscape, often washing out roads completely.

The result = dump truck loads of dirt entering Rye Creek and Sleeping Child Creek.


According to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, both streams need a 63% reduction in the amount of dirt entering them from nearby roads. Excess sediment covers the bottom of the stream filling in the deep pools trout use to over-winter, smothering their eggs, and choking the aquatic insects they rely on for food.  Since over 70% of the unpaved roads in these areas are on Forest Service lands, BRWF took the opportunity to partner with the BNF to take action and improve these important fisheries.


Through a stewardship agreement with the BNF, BRWF restored nearly 20 miles of road in an almost 2,000-acre area in the Upper Sleeping Child and Rye Creek drainages. Recontouring these abandoned, deteriorating roads will restore hydrologic function, allowing for rain and runoff to be stored in the ground instead of washing out the road surface into the streams. Project planning for the Watershed Improvment Project begain in 2014, implemtation started in 2015, and the project was finished on August 2nd, 2016.

Article by Ravalli Republic 

A project of this size and scope would not be possible without great project partners.  A huge thank you to the Bitterroot National Forest for technical and financial assistance, the Bitter Root Chapter Trout Unlimited whose significant funding commitment helped get this project through the planning process and onto the ground, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Montana Trout Unlimited, and Future Fisheries programs for financially supporting this endeavor, and YOU! Without local support this project could not happen.