In early April 2015, the last piece of construction equipment rolled across the temporary bridge that provided access to the Clark Fork River Delta restoration site in Idaho, signaling the end of the first phase of this extensive project. Heavy equipment and work crews spent the entire winter of 2014/2015 working on the project under less than ideal conditions for construction. Despite these challenges, the earthmoving portion of the project was completed successfully. Nearly 300,000 cubic yards of earth and rock were moved to raise and protect portions of two islands in the delta and construct rock weirs and breakwaters along exposed shoreline areas. Over 40,000 willow cuttings were planted within these rock structures to provide riparian shrub habitat for fish and wildlife. Many thousands more herbaceous and woody plants will be installed across the project area over the coming months with invaluable help from local volunteers.
The main purpose of the project is to eliminate the severe bank erosion that has been ongoing in the delta for several decades following the construction of Albeni Falls Dam in 1955. The construction of the first phase follows several years of assessment and feasibility work to determine the scale of the erosion problems. Estimates generated during this phase put the loss of wetland and riparian habitat from erosion at 10-15 acres each year, or over 600 acres total since completion of the dam. Results of the assessment work were used to develop a restoration design that provides solutions to the widespread erosion in the delta. DU conservation staff worked in close coordination with regional staff from the Panhandle Office of Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the project design team to complete these important steps in the restoration process. The total cost of this phase of the project is over $6 million with funds coming from Avista and Bonneville Power Administration. IDFG and DU provided significant in kind staff resources to the project.
The Clark Fork River Delta is a special place for wildlife and has been recognized by IDFG as one of the 10 most important wetland areas in Idaho. Despite the extensive loss of habitat that has occurred there over the last half century, the delta provides important resources for thousands of waterfowl during the fall and spring migrations. Bald eagle, osprey, great blue herons, shorebirds and songbirds are all regular visitors to the delta. The area also provides habitat for elk, moose, white-tailed deer and black bear. The Delta is also a favorite recreation area for hunting, fishing, kayaking, canoeing and wildlife viewing and is used regularly by the local residents of nearby Sandpoint.