Ruby River Grayling - Gravel Spawning Beds Monitoring Report January 2008

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1 Ruby River Grayling - Gravel Spawning Beds Monitoring Report January 2008 In partnership with Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP), American Wildlands, and Wildlife Forever, the Madison Ranger District installed spawning gravels in short reaches of three tributaries to the upper Ruby River (Swamp Creek, Grayling Creek, and Success Creek) in the fall of 2006 and summer of FWP annually operates remote site incubators at each of these three sites that hatch fertilized grayling eggs and hopefully imprint alevins to these tributaries. The upper Ruby River system is typically lacking in spawning habitat, and the nature of its parent material produces naturally high levels of fine sediment. The objective of augmenting clean streambed gravels was to provide a minimal amount of spawning habitat for reintroduced fluvial population of Arctic grayling that are imprinted to these sites and expected to become sexually mature in Typically, washed gravels (3/4 minus) were laid 1-3 deep in the native channel bottom (Figures 1, 2, and 3). A small rock weir about 3-4 tall was installed at the downstream end of each gravel segment to prevent the downstream transport of these gravels. The rock weir was secured in place by 2 diameter wood stakes (one foot long) pounded into the streambed. Figure 1. Comparison of gravel surface, Grayling Creek site, November 2006 at left, April 2007 right. Gravels appear to have overwintered with no downstream loss and minimal fine sediment impact. Note the wood stakes securing the downstream rock weir. The weir is not an impediment to upstream fish passage. By May of 2007, all three segments of gravel spawning habitat had survived the winter intact and clean, although no spawning activity was observed in these enhanced segments, or anywhere in the upper Ruby system. Monitoring of the native fluvial grayling population in the Big Hole River drainage has shown that

2 reproductive success is directly related to the volume of runoff in a given year. As the spring runoff in 2007 was abnormally low in the Ruby River - and across the southwest MT landscape, even relative to the ongoing drought this is one explanation as to why no grayling spawning was observed in the upper Ruby in Continued monitoring of the Ruby grayling population in future years will help evaluate the success of these spawning reaches, in addition to other characteristics of the population Elevation (feet) Before After Distance (feet) Figure 2. Longitudinal profile of the Grayling Creek channel segment augmented with spawning gravel, November Note the depth of spawning gravels varies from 1 to 3. Downstream is on the left.

3 Elevation (feet) Before After Elevation (feet) Before After Distance (feet) Distance (feet) Figure 3. Profiles of the upper (left) and lower (right) cross-sections of the 35 foot gravel reach in Grayling Creek, November The view is from upstream looking downstream. At Swamp Creek, the gravel segment was installed immediately upstream of the confluence with the Ruby River (Figure 4). This segment of channel was degraded by moderate down cutting and overwidening, and required considerable gravel to fill the expanded channel geometry. The channel also required some work to configure the flow so that fish might access Swamp Creek from the Ruby River. An in-channel headcut located in the middle of this segment also created a challenge to fish passage. Future monitoring of this site is recommended to evaluate its integrity.

4 Figure 4. Swamp Creek spawning gravel bed after one winter, 22 April Note the drop at its confluence with the Ruby River (upper right of photo). This site should be evaluated annually to determine its integrity. At Success Creek, similar channel degradation exists and creating access for fish in the vicinity of the Ruby River confluence was challenging (Figure 5). In October 2006, one small log sill and two small rock weirs were installed near the confluence to help maintain streambed elevation, and backfilled with small spawning gravels. Due to the extreme low flow experienced in the spring of 2007, alevins exiting the remote site incubator at this site were challenged to migrate downstream 30 feet to the Ruby River. FWP biologists made minor adjustments to provide continuous flow for these offspring. To correct the channel configuration, in September 2007 sedge plugs were planted in the gravel reach to create a narrow (25 cm wide) low-flow channel (Figure 6). Annual monitoring/evaluation of this site should help determine how it functions under low flow conditions.

5 Figure 5. Success Creek gravel augmentation site. Ruby River in the extreme lower foreground. Note the sinuosity employed to provide a relatively low gradient, narrow channel that adults may use at a variety of flows to access this tributary. Native sedges (C. utriculata) grown from BDNF stock archived at the FS Coeur d Alene nursery were planted in bare gravels, and wood stakes were pounded into the streambed to secure the large cobbles and small boulders used to create weirs/steps. This site will require continued monitoring and maintenance until sedges and other native vegetation are restored. By late summer of 2007, gravels at all three sites showed signs of fine sediment inundation, particularly the Success Creek and Swamp Creek sites. The Grayling Creek site received only minor levels of fine sediments barely covering the gravels there. This is likely a cumulative result of livestock trampling along and within the headwaters of each of these drainages, although the Swamp & Success sites did receive late season trampling onsite during stock gathering and trailing. Taking advantage of a moderate headcut immediately upstream of the Success reach, we installed a small sediment trap that should help to alleviate this problem over the short term. It is recommended that these two sites each be protected from livestock trampling with a small electric fence. This will allow streamside vegetation to expand and improve the integrity and channel characteristics of these two valuable reaches.

6 Figure 6. The Success site, view looking downstream towards the Ruby River. This site was heavily trampled by late season livestock trailing out of the allotment.

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