The Colter Creek Fish Passage Restoration Project restored juvenile fish passage, improved stream function, and enhanced fish habitat on Colter Creek, the second largest tributary along the southern flank of the Talkeetna Mountains to the Little Susitna River. As a result of this project, the culverts on Colter Creek can pass migratory fish and adequately provide for stream flow and process. The lowest culvert, located on Sitze Road, blocked juvenile fish passage due to a perch at the outlet and increased velocity due to constriction of the creek. Three culvert crossings upstream on private driveways severely constricted the creek and thus also presented velocity barriers to juvenile salmon. The Nature Conservancy worked with the Mat-Su Borough, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and local landowners to replace all four culverts with fish-friendly arched pipes. All restoration sites were re-vegetated and monitored for success with the help of volunteers. The sites also are incorporated into an existing environmental education program conducted by the Wasilla Soil and Water Conservation District for local elementary school children and the project has been used to educate the general public about fish passage.
Ecological Benefits of the Colter Creek Restoration Project
The direct ecological benefits of the Colter Creek Fish Passage Restoration Project are improved Coho and chinook juvenile fish passage and enhanced habitat for these species and resident fishes, including approximately 1 acre of riparian habitat. The project restored passage to approximately 3 miles upstream plus small unmapped tributaries. Constrictions of the creek were removed, which improved stream function and provided capacity for the creek to remain in its channel and floodplain during high water events. At a greater scale, the Little Susitna River watershed remains free of northern pike, a non-native salmon predator in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, thus the watershed provides important habitat for salmon fry and juveniles, plus other fish species. Enhancing fish passage and habitat in Colter Creek can provide resiliency for salmon species in the larger ecosystem as pike are nearly impossible to eradicate from other watersheds.
Partnerships, Educational Opportunities and Community Involvement
The Colter Creek Fish Passage Restoration Project helps to expand private-public partnerships addressing restoration in the Mat-Su Basin. The Mat-Su Basin Salmon Habitat Partnership is officially recognized under the National Fish Habitat Action Partnership. Together with partners such as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and Wasilla Soil and Water Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy implemented restoration and re-vegetation methods which restored the health of Colter Creek while providing opportunities to educate the public about the importance of maintaining healthy fish passage.