Bitterroot Ranch Dams
Modernizing irrigation to restore creek flows
About the Project
Bitterroot Ranch has been a family-owned dude ranch offering horseback-riding vacations since the 1960’s. The ranch diverts water from Pine and Meadow creeks, tributaries to the East Fork of the Wind River, to irrigate 110 acres of meadows. The two diversions blocked fish passage, entrained fish, and required annual maintenance. The diversions were inefficient and kept Pine Creek dry most years while significantly reducing Meadow Creek flows during the irrigation season.
The East Fork of the Wind River contains genetically pure Yellowstone cutthroat trout, the largest such population remaining in the Upper Wind River drainage. In 2015, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) prioritized the Pine and Meadow creek drainages for Yellowstone cutthroat trout restoration. Entrainment studies confirmed that the Pine and Meadow creek diversions killed 200 to 400 of these trout per season.
To reduce net withdrawal of water in Pine and Meadow creeks, Bitterroot Ranch owners, Trout Unlimited, and project partners worked together to upgrade the meadow sprinkler system in 2016 and remove the barriers in 2017. Conserved water, though not explicitly protected, will increase flows downstream of Bitterroot Ranch where 95 percent of the watershed is in public ownership.
The Bitterroot Ranch is responsible for long‐term maintenance and monitoring of the irrigation infrastructure, while WGFD and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff track the ecological effects. A fish monitoring plan is in place, and the state and federal agencies will sample fish abundance and distribution every five years to document population-level responses. WFGD and Bitterroot Ranch staff will periodically check the new irrigation delivery system to ensure no fish are entrained.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
- Opens 17 miles of unimpeded habitat for Yellowstone cutthroat trout in priority tributaries
- Improves conditions for Yellowstone cutthroat trout, mountain whitefish, lake chub, white sucker and longnose dace
- Eliminates entrainment of Yellowstone cutthroat trout
- Restores flows in Pine and Meadow creeks
- Reduces maintenance for diversions, which benefits ranch operations and also reduces disturbance of riparian and instream habitat
- Bitterroot Ranch
- Trout Unlimited
- National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
- Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust
- Wyoming Game and Fish Department
- U.S. Forest Service
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- Dubois Anglers and Wildlife Group
- Wind River Outdoor Company