Collaboration & Consensus to Preserve an Idaho Treasure

In 2011, Agrium joined two other companies that mine phosphate ore in southeastern Idaho to form a partnership with two conservation groups to improve the health of the Upper Blackfoot River. This innovative partnership, the Upper Blackfoot River Initiative for Conservation (UBRIC), will begin voluntary conservation projects in 2012 to improve water quality and fish habitat. The UBRIC partners include Agrium, JR Simplot, Monsanto, the Idaho Conservation League and Trout Unlimited.

UBRIC has identified three initial projects, which it targets to complete in 2012. One of the projects will facilitate fish passage for Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout and other native species at a water diversion structure on Diamond Creek. As part of that project, UBRIC will install fish screens to reduce loss of fish in irrigation ditches, and improve water-use efficiency.

A second project will restore habitat and improve fish passage along a ten-mile stretch of Lanes Creek abutting the Caribou-Targhee National Forest. By reducing erosion, the effort will improve water quality in this tributary of the Blackfoot River. UBRIC will also provide support to Idaho Fish & Game in their efforts to control, through non-lethal means, expanding pelican populations near Blackfoot Reservoir.

The project has received extensive coverage from state and local media outlets. Here are some excerpts:

From the Capital Press – Bear Lake Grazing Co. can thank a new partnership of mining companies and conservation groups for the modern head gates and water flow monitoring equipment in its irrigation system.

The ranch, which runs 2,600 head of cattle within the Upper Blackfoot River drainage amid the so-called phosphate patch of Caribou County, agreed to allow the Upper Blackfoot River Initiative for Conservation to install screens to keep native Yellowstone cutthroat trout out of its irrigation channels.

In exchange, UBRIC is now completing structures to replace Bear Lake Grazing diversions on Diamond Creek and Lanes Creek, which merge to form the Blackfoot River. The improvements bring the grazing company in compliance with a recent legal decision on water rights. They also represent the first of many projects UBRIC hopes to complete that should further members’ conservation goals while benefiting local ranchers who volunteer to help.

“They completed the job very quickly once they were able to get everything ready and started, and they did it when it wouldn’t interfere with our cattle operation,” said Joan Bunderson, managing partner with the Bear Lake Grazing Co. board. “We’re a small cattle company. We don’t have a lot of extra money to spend on things like that.”

From the Idaho Statesman – Three mining companies and two conservation groups have formed a partnership to improve water quality and fish habitat in eastern Idaho’s Blackfoot River.

The Upper Blackfoot River Initiative for Conservation will start restoration projects this year based on an assessment done in the watershed known for its Yellowstone cutthroat fishery. All of the projects are voluntary.

The UBRIC partners include JR Simplot Company, Monsanto, Agrium/Nu-West Industries, the Idaho Conservation League and Trout Unlimited. The three companies mine phosphate in the region and also are involved in clean-up under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act known as Superfund.

But the companies and conservation groups have been talking since last year about this separate voluntary program aimed at restoring the health of the Upper Blackfoot, which has been impacted not only by mining but also farming, livestock grazing, road-building and even camper waste.

Despite these problems the Upper Blackfoot remains a blue ribbon fishery for native cutthroat.

“It is an opportunity for stakeholders of the Blackfoot River to come together and make a positive difference.” said Jeff Klieve, director of environmental affairs for Monsanto.

From the Associated Press – Monsanto, Boise-based J.R. Simplot Co., and Agrium/Nu-West Industries have mines in the so-called phosphate patch near the Idaho-Wyoming border. Environmental groups have been concerned about selenium pollution from phosphate mining that’s killed livestock and aquatic life in eastern Idaho waterways.

“Our top priority projects are those that will immediately benefit water quality and fish,” said Rob Masonis, vice president for Western Conservation at Trout Unlimited.

The group is also contacting others with interests in the region. Those include ranchers and other land owners, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Caribou-Targhee National Forest, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, Bureau of Land Management, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, Caribou Cattle Co. and the Bear Lake Grazing Co.

“In all our projects, we will reach out to other interested parties and work collaboratively with landowners and government agencies,” said Alan Prouty, Simplot’s vice president for environmental and regulatory affairs.

The group also is looking at non-lethal methods at controlling pelican populations near the Blackfoot Reservoir.

“As we work to restore habitat in the Blackfoot River and improve water quality, we also need to have a thoughtful strategy to make sure the benefit of UBRIC’s habitat restoration work is not negated by the pelicans,” said Justin Hayes, program manager for the Idaho Conservation League.