The Vermilion River is an important Bull Trout spawning stream and is also a stronghold for Westslope Cutthroat Trout. Historically, the river has been impaired by upstream clear-cutting and significant mining activity, which has decreased the stability of this drainage. In 2007, the Kootenai National Forest – Cabinet Ranger District completed a watershed assessment and preliminary restoration plan for the Vermilion River. This document outlines a series of top-down, watershed-wide restoration projects that we are working collaboratively to implement.
Restoration partners working on the Vermilion River aim to continue implementing projects and contribute to watershed-scale recovery of water and habitat quality in the drainage.

Chapel Slide

The first project was completed in 2012, at Chapel Slide, and rerouted the channel of the mainstem Vermilion River away from a large slide and greatly reduced the amount of sediment input into the river. Post-restoration monitoring of the restoration indicated that there is improved channel stability, successful riparian planting and increased Bull Trout spawning use of this reach.

vermilion river project to reduce sediment input

The Chapel Slide restoration project moved the channel of the Vermilion River away from the base of this large mass wasting feature, and reduced sediment inputs into the river.

Miners Gulch

The second project implemented on the Vermilion River is the Miners Gulch Stream and Riparian Restoration Project, which restored a degraded segment of stream and floodplain to improve and protect native fish habitat. It is the largest stream restoration project implemented in the Lower Clark Fork watershed so far and involves re-shaping the stream channel, installation of in-stream wood and rock structures, re-construction of the floodplain surface, and aggressive riparian planting program to establish native trees and shrubs in the floodplain. The first phase of this project (stream and floodplain construction) was implemented in the summer of 2016, and the second phase (riparian planting) took place in the summer of 2017. The film documents this project.

This project is performing well as designed and has shown remarkable success with revegetation efforts. Beyond high survival of plantings, the newly activated floodplains are demonstrating natural regeneration of native plant species following deposition of fine sediment during runoff events.

restoration at Miners gulch in the vermilion river

Photo credit: Caroline Knack, Volunteer
A key aspect of the Miners Gulch Stream and Flooplain Restoration Project was the extensive revegetation efforts on the newly constructed floodplains.

Photo credit: Brita Olson, Lower Clark Fork Watershed Group
Black cottonwood, Douglas Fir, and Silverleaf Phacelia have germinated on newly created floodplains in the Sims Meander reach of the Vermilion River. Prior to restoration, little vegetation other than invasive Spotted Knapweed could survive the harsh conditions of the perched cobble deposits along the river. 

Photo credit: Brita Olson, Lower Clark Fork Watershed Group
Black Cottonwood and Western Yarrow are recolonizing the Vermilion River’s floodplains in fresh deposits of silt following restoration efforts. 

irrigation along the vermilion river to assist in establishment of young trees

Photo Credit: Erich Pfalzer
Key to the successful establishment of young trees in the extremely well-drained, coarse substrate along the Vermilion River is weekly irrigation during the first year or two following planting. 

Sims Meander

The third project completed on the Vermilion River was the Sims Meander Stream and Floodplain Restoration Project. Construction occurred in summer of 2021, and revegetation efforts commenced in fall of 2021 and are ongoing. This project was similar to the Miners Gulch project completed in 2016/2017 documented above, though there was more preexisting vegetation in this reach that was retained during construction. Around pockets of established vegetation, floodplains were regraded and instream habitat was created, utilizing structures made of trees with attached rootballs.

sims meander in the vermilion river construction project

Photo credit: Kootenai National Forest
Kootenai National Forest staff observe Sims Meander reach during construction, summer 2021. Natural pockets of regenerating Black Cottonwoods were retained around new stream and floodplain structures, such as the large wood jam pictured here. .

Construction cameras deployed in spring of 2022, captured multiple peak runoff events in the newly restored reaches of the Vermilion River.

As a part of this project, another film was produced, which explains the importance of stream and floodplain structures and documents our ongoing work in the Vermilion River.

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