31 July 2007

German Gulch Restoration: thanks to the David & Lois Layton family

Earlier this week, I attended a dedication ceremony in German Gulch near Butte. The surviving family of David Luther Layton, including his spouse Lois, four children, and many grandchildren, worked with the George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited to insure that their family property would be forever appreciated--by the general public. By transferring their beautiful 80 acres along German Gulch Creek to the US Forest Service and Montana state lands, the Laytons became part of a grand restoration project that benefits westslope cutthroat trout, other wildlife, and the public in general.

After moving to the great city of Butte in the heart of the northern Rocky Mountains in 1990, my hear soon fell for the Big Hole River. But, that very first year, I also discovered a delightful nearby trout fishing, hiking, and mule deer hunting spot. The small stream of German Gulch, a tributary of Silver Bow Creek in the upper Clark Fork River basin, was much like the freestone mountain creeks I had grown up fishing on the Appalachian Plateau of the Allegheny Highlands
Whereas the creeks of my boyhood held native brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), through German Gulch creek I became acquainted with the native fish of the west--the westslope cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii lewisi). Here's one, in the sampling tray of fisheries biologist Tim LaMarr:
Wow! Are these a beautiful fish, or what? As part of our natural heritage, a creature that evolved in this harsh post-Pleistocene landscape, they are a treasure. How lucky and bizarre, that the mine-polluted waters of Silver Bow Creek provided a poisonous barrier to prevent exotic, introduced rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) from hybridizing the native fish in German Gulch Creek.
In fact, it's amazing that native trout survived at all in German Gulch Creek. More than a century ago, the entire watershed was clearcut and placer mined--the creek's floodplain extensively terraformed by hydraulic and dredge mining for gold. A whole series of French, German, Chinese, and out-of-work Great Depression era miners worked the creek over from the 1870s to the 1930s. To add insult to injury, Montana Fish & Game dumped thousands of stocked trout from hatcheries into the creek before 1980. And yet, physically damaged though the watershed was, "cutties" held on in the headwater tributaries and then recolonized the main creek as the riparian habitat recovered from abuse.

Lying about midway between the towns of Anaconda and Butte, the German Gulch watershed is an important local natural resource. With the ongoing remediation and restoration of Silver Bow Creek, German Gulch Creek would be an important source of native trout and clear, cold water. Local hunters, anglers, hikers, and campers also had a long historical connection to and a deep appreciation for the area. As I visited German Gulch more often and talked about it with other folks, I came to understand how important it was as public land and as relatively pristine habitat:
When I was elected president of the George Grant Chapter of Trout Unlimited (GGTU) in 2002-2003, I made German Gulch Creek a priority. As good as it was, there were some problems, threats, and opportunities: selenium pollution from a recently abandoned open-pit, cyanide heap-leach gold mine; private in-holdings within Forest Service and state land that were ripe for development; aquatic and riparian habitat that could not recover from the physical damage wrought by placer mining; the threat of rainbow trout entering the creek as Silver Bow Creek is remediated and restored; an irrigation diversion that diverted the lower creek and severed the aquatic habitat connection between Silver Bow and German Gulch Creeks; difficulty with public access to the lower creek... German Gulch Creek was an eye-opening lesson: habitat that -- on the surface -- appears to be good and secure may be a high priority for our attention and protection.

GGTU began its German Gulch project with a small "Project Development Grant" of about $25,000 that I submitted in 2002 to Montana's Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP). The money helped us to search titles, obtain appraisals, develop a conceptual plan for stream restoration, and complete other needed planning tasks. When Josh Vincent, an environmental engineer and Montana Tech alumni, joined the GGTU board, things got a lot easier. He brought needed technical and managerial expertise to the project, as well as a personal passion and appreciation for German Gulch. We submitted a second planning grant for about $25,000 in 2003. This helped fund more needed work, such as a redesign for the irrigator's headgate and a plan to remove a road built with toxic mine waste tailings. These two planning grants laid the foundation for the more than $1 million that Josh and I raised through grants in 2004. Though the bulk of the money came from NRDP, we also succeeded in obtaining matching funds from Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) Future Fisheries program for stream restoration work, FWP funds for a fish barrier to halt rainbow trout introgression, US Fish & Wildlife Service Fisheries Restoration and Irrigation Mitigation Program for a fish screen on the irrigator's headgate, and Montana Fish & Wildlife Trust funds for land purchases.

David Luther Layton and his wife Lois appreciated nature and enjoyed camping with their four children. After buying a parcel of about 80 acres (several former mining claims) in German Gulch, they began a family tradition of camping there. GGTU approached the Layton family in early 2004, with an inquiry about purchasing the family's land and transferring it to public ownership. The Layton property was astride the Forest Service and state lands boundary, and so the upper portion of the property would go to the feds and the lower portion to the state.

The Layton family was gracious and patient in dealing with GGTU. David was deceased, and Lois and her other three children allowed her son Matthew to represent the family. This greatly simplified GGTU dealings with the family, but it also spoke reams about the Layton family's solidarity, trust, and general sense of good will. During this time, I moved on to some other projects and Josh Vincent took on German Gulch project management for the Trout Unlimited Chapter. German Gulch was my baby, but it was raised by Josh. As I told the Layton family at yesterday's ceremony marking the tranfer of the land, it is easy to conceive and even birth a baby. Josh did the hard work of raising the child.

And what a ceremony it was. Held on site, here's Lois Layton (left):
The ceremony also proved to be a family reunion, including mother Lois and other family elders, gathered here around "rally rock" on the Layton property: Children David, Daniel, Sue, and Michael and their spouses:
And the grandchildren and the whole gang, along with some GGTU folks: We capped the ceremony with a hike down to the bridge crossing for a public trail constructed as part of the project. Here is Andrew McElroy (Boy Scout Troop 8 of Butte, Montana) with the bridge he helped design and build as his Eagle Scout project: And here is Josh Vincent (left), the good parent who has brought this project along to date, and who remains committed to the many other tasks yet to be completed: As Hillary Clinton famously wrote, "It takes a village to raise a child." Similarly, it takes a village to pull off a grass-roots based project of this magnitude. At the risk of offending some persons by forgetting to mention them, it is important to recognize some of the key supporters of and participants in this project.

First of all, the whole Layton clan: Lois, son David Michael and his spouse Robin, son Daniel Dana and his spouse Jane, daughter Sue and her spouse Eckelhardt Schulze, and son Matthew Steven and his spouse Christiane.

Next come fisheries biologists Tim LaMarr and Ron Spoon. Tim worked for the Forest Service at the time, and had been working for several years to survey native westslope cutthroat trout in German Gulch and to persuade his agency to invest in restoration. Ron is with FWP, and has worked tirelessly to assess and protect native trout populations throughout southwest Montana.

Kriss Douglass, a local FWP employee (now retired), early on appreciated the promise of GGTU's project, and helped convince her agency that it should be a priority. After Kriss' retirement, Vanna Boccadori supported the project and marshalled important tasks such as the required environmental assessement.
Hugh Zackheim at the FWP land's office worked closely with Josh Vincent on the title documents and other difficult tasks.

There were many others, some whose story is yet to be told. The rancher and irrigator with the water rights to German Gulch Creek has been as patient and generous as the Layton family in his dealings with GGTU. As the reconstruction of his headgate and irrigation diversion takes place, I look forward to continuing this story.

In the late 1990s, when I and a few others first began brainstorming a German Gulch restoration plan, no one could have imagined how much work it would entail nor how long it would take. My hat is off to Josh Vincent and his colleagues at George Grant Trout Unlimited for their dogged persistence in seeing this project through to its completion.
Other sources:

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