A View From Above: Aerial photos lead to Idaho victory for fish, big game

ORV damage in Meadow Crekk Roadless Area of the Nez Perce National Forest, ID. Photo by Bradley Smith, Idaho Conservation League

A year ago, a bunch of aerial photos of the Meadow Creek watershed showing that something was not right got into the hands of Brad Brooks from The Wilderness Society and Brad Smith from the Idaho Conservation League.

The men noticed that All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) had caused severe damage to the land surrounding the large creek near Elk City, Idaho. From the air, the effects of the off-roading were clear. Signs of shifting soil and erosion were evident. Vegetation that animals depend upon had been destroyed. The off-roading was not only destroying the soil but also harming the area’s wildlife.

The two decided to take action.

The result? Brooks and Smith convinced the U.S. Forest Service to close the ATV trails and halt the destruction.

“Closing the trails helped protect stream habitat for fish and protect land for big game species like elk and deer,” said Brad Smith, a public lands analyst for the Idaho Conservation League.

“Meadows Creek is also one of the most important tributaries in that area for salmon and steelhead trout,” he said.

Meadow Creek Roadless Area, located in the Nez Perce National Forest in Northern Idaho, is home for a great variety of wildlife, including some peculiar and interesting fish — the chinook salmon and the steelhead trout. Both of these endangered species spawn in large and deep streams after having spent one to eight years in the sea. Because their eggs need cool water and good water flow to supply oxygen, freshwater streams like Meadow Creek provide just what these fish need.

ATVs, however, were causing soil erosion that wiped out vegetation and smothered the creek — covering up the very nooks and crannies the fish used for spawning.

“It was a big victory for non-motorized hunters and a big victory for fish and wildlife as well,” said Brad Brooks, Regional Conservation Associate from The Wilderness Society’s Idaho regional office.