living the legacy of conservation

Photo: Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission 

Photo: Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission’re a steelhead trout out in the Pacific Ocean when that uncontrollable instinct washes over you:  go home.  You head inland, swimming up the Columbia River, then the Snake, then the Potlatch River, then up Big Bear Creek, the smaller Little Bear Creek, and finally, a tributary called the West Fork of Little Bear Creek.  Overall you’ve traveled over 500 miles.  And here, if you’re lucky, there will be enough water to get through.  If you’re really lucky, the water will be cool and shaded, and will make you feel fine, just fine enough to spawn in your homewaters.

Every year, a genetically distinct type of wild steelhead makes this same trip home to the West Fork of Little Bear Creek in Troy, Idaho.  People from many backgrounds are working together to ensure that these steelhead can continue to go home to spawn.  There are state and federal agencies, local conservation districts, and an increasingly important group of partners: private landowners. 

Local families making a difference

Jim and Zoe Cooley, photo: Erica Sloniker

Jim and Zoe Cooley, photo: Erica Sloniker

Throughout the Potlatch River watershed, local families are agreeing to restore meadows and stream channels.  Private citizens are planting trees and shrubs to cool the streams.  And there are people like Jim and Zoe Cooley of Troy, Idaho, who are working to make sure that habitat for steelhead will be protected into the future.

Jim and Zoe live on 99 acres in Bear Creek Canyon.  For decades, they've lived in this steep canyon, managing the land to both be productive and to provide important habitat for local wildlife.  Their land is an important corridor for moose, elk, deer, weasel, black bear, and of course, fish.

The West Fork of Little Bear Creek runs through the Cooley’s land — nearly 4/5 of a mile of the creek identified by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game as one of the most critical streams for wild steelhead production in the Potlatch River system.

"The West Fork of Little Bear Creek is dominated by intermittent flows.  However, certain reaches of this tributary maintain perennial flow,” says Fish and Game biologist Damon Keen.  "Perennial flow is tied to pool quantity and quality that is critical for juvenile steelhead development.  The Cooley land includes a good stretch of this tributary that maintains perennial flow. They’ve been managing their land for decades to promote good riparian conditions.”  

Permanent protection

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As Jim and Zoe started thinking about what would happen to their land in the future, they began working with the Land Trust to protect this important wildlife corridor with a conservation easement.  The conservation easement allows the Cooleys to continue owning the land and pass it on to their kids, continue to manage the forest for forest health and promote wildlife habitat, continue using their homestead in a way that supports a self-sufficient lifestyle, and affords them the comfort of knowing that when they’re gone, the habitat that fish and wildlife depend on will be protected.

"You know, you hear the old adage Think Globally, Act Locally,” says Zoe, "Well, sometimes you wonder how much of an effect you can have on these big problems.  We figured if we can do our part on our own little piece of ground, that’s a start.”

Thanks to the Cooleys and landowners like them working on restoration projects throughout the watershed, it’s a very good start.



Click here to read the Moscow-Pullman Daily News Article about this easement, published Friday, March 18, 2016.