By Mike Peterson
Meet Tess, and your old friend Rock Creek...
Tess Scanlon grew up in Colorado and then Cleveland (don’t ask). A brochure from Appalachian State showed up on a dreary Ohio day. The beauty of the Appalachia caught her eye and off she went. Then armed with an Environmental Biology degree, she obtained higher wisdom and headed to Montana. There she enrolled in grad school at the University of Montana in Environmental Studies. A master’s degree must not have been hard enough as she obtained certification in Natural Resource Conflict Resolution!!! In Montana, that often means Water Rights. She certainly has the demeanor and skills to enter that arena and succeed. That’s how her brochure caught our eye!!
After an extensive search and interview process, Westslope Chapter of Trout Unlimited found Tess. We hired her to be our Rock Creek Coordinator in 2018. Why do we need such a person? Well, a temperature modelling study of the Columbia Basin had been completed, and produced some frightening results. Rivers and streams are warming and many may be too far gone to be helped. One of the Coldwater fisheries that was recommended as a high priority to invest resources is our own beloved Rock Creek. Welcome Tess. Now get to work.
Where do you start with such a massive and complex watershed? A project by MT Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP), FWP, and Montana TU is helping to unlock some secrets. You may have heard of the “Race Up Rock Creek”. Fish were tagged in the Clark Fork and Rock Creek and we all supported and named the fish to help fund the process (the 3rd Annual Race Up Rock Creek will happen this spring). It wasn’t just a race up the creek to spawn. The research goal is to see where the fish spawn, which tributaries they use, and what artificial (man-made?) obstructions threaten them. Each year, the results provide surprises and also confirm concerns. Culverts bar fish passage and fish get caught in irrigation ditches. The Race Up Rock Creek has led to projects to replace culverts on Brewster Creek and the Ross Fork (thank you WSCTU and FWP). It also became apparent that Upper Willow Creek is a major spawning tributary, and worthy of some investment. More to come later.
The largest irrigation ditch on Rock Creek is above the Bohrnsen Bridge. Many downstream moving fish swim into this ditch, become trapped in hay fields, and are at the mercy of predators. Those factors lead to their demise. We used to go into the ditch, net fish, and put them back into the creek. The irrigation ditch involves several ranches and landowners (remember the water rights thing?). Tess jumped right in. She undertook this complex, and difficult project, in a busy area, for all to see.
The ditch was reconstructed to install a massive fish screen and new head gate. The work was done with the support of The Ranch at Rock Creek, the water users, and MT NRDP. The Ranch at Rock Creek is a high end guest ranch and has been a great supporter of WSCTU. The Bohrnsen ranch, the main user of water from the ditch, is well known in the valley for allowing access to fishing and hunting, as well as a long time working ranch. The project is on Ranch at Rock Creek land and signage will educate their worldly guests to our local projects. Maybe even dust off a few check books.
The Bohrnsen Fish Screen Project improves efficiency of ranch water management and delivery. It also prevents fish from entering the ditch where they would be trapped and perish. Construction of the project went well and will eventually have WSCTU signage. Well done Tess, and well done WSCTU! If you like boots on the ground volunteer projects, Tess will have some for you in the near future. Who doesn’t want to give some love back to Rock Creek!
WSCTU spent a lot of money and time removing the Rattlesnake Dam. Now we turn a lot of our focus to Rock Creek. The pieces are in place to preserve and improve this great Coldwater Fishery. Your donation money and our time is being well spent. The money we raise is leveraged many fold by Tess as she obtains fishery grants from many sources. Keep it coming all you lovers of great fisheries, like Rock Creek. And GO TESS!