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Bear River trout conservation aided by federal funding

A small trout held toward the camera by a pair of outstretched hands
Clint Wirick/USFWS

The Bear River, which feeds Great Salt Lake, provides critical habitat for Bonneville cutthroat trout and other native fish species. Trout Unlimited has been working to restore aquatic habitat for these species in the Bear River watershed for nearly two decades.

Michael Fiorelli, the project leader for the upper Bear River, described the project’s progression.
“In the lower sections of the Bear from the Uintas down, there's a lot of removal of fish passage barriers. And now we're moving up into the forest and working with the Forest Service and some private landowners that border the forest to do the restoration aspect,” he said.

Fiorelli and James DeRito, the project manager for the greater Bear River watershed, said the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act have helped fund critical restoration projects, like those currently in progress near Evanston, Wyoming.

“With some of the recent federal legislation and the infrastructure bills that have passed, a lot of that funding is coming down through the federal agencies and, and eventually, that's getting to the ground. And some of these projects are now hitting the ground, with some of those funds involved,” DeRito said.

Bonneville cutthroat trout are migratory, and DeRito shared that removing barriers to migrating fish is critical to keeping their populations healthy.

“These fish, the migratory ones, at least, they live in the Bear River, they spend the winters and summers there. But then they go to spawn in the spring and the small tributary streams. And so dams and diversions and road crossings can actually block those routes, and really limit the expression of their life history and limit how many fish we have,” DeRito said.

In addition to helping trout populations, these projects are expected to decrease erosion, improve irrigation for nearby landowners, and increase watershed resilience to drought.

Learn more about the Bear River projects through Trout Unlimited's Bear River case study map and on YouTube.

Aimee Van Tatenhove is a science reporter at UPR. She spends most of her time interviewing people doing interesting research in Utah and writing stories about wildlife, new technologies and local happenings. She is also a PhD student at Utah State University, studying white pelicans in the Great Salt Lake, so she thinks about birds a lot! She also loves fishing, skiing, baking, and gardening when she has a little free time.