U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks public comment through February 3
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has released for public review and comment a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge). The Refuge proposes to remove a culvert and restore riparian habitat along North Burnt Fork Creek to improve fish passage, while maintaining visitor access, through the Refuge in the Bitterroot River Valley of southwestern Montana.
The Refuge, in partnership with Trout Unlimited and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, is proposing to remove a barrier culvert and open approximately 2.5 miles of stream habitat on North Burnt Fork Creek as it passes through the Refuge.
Previously, an impoundment was built on North Burnt Fork Creek, 0.2 miles from its confluence with the Bitterroot River. The structure, a set of two vertical pipes leading into two culverts, effectively impounds water but also created a full passage barrier to fish migrating between the Bitterroot River and North Burnt Fork Creek. The structure has encouraged sediment to precipitate out, which, over time, has made this area less beneficial for waterfowl within the Refuge.
Reed canary grass, a highly aggressive non-native grass, has also established throughout the riparian area outcompeting the native riparian tree and shrub community, and simplifying habitat for migratory songbirds and other riparian-dependent species.
Many fish species in the Bitterroot River Valley, including federally threatened bull trout and the Montana Species of Special Concern westslope cutthroat trout, migrate into tributaries like North Burnt Fork Creek to spawn. The proposed action is likely to enhance not only riparian habitat but also local fisheries and resultant fishing opportunities.
The project is located within the Refuge’s Wildlife Viewing Area (WVA), where visitors enjoy utilizing the American with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)-accessible trail system for walking, wildlife viewing and environmental education and interpretation. While access may be limited during construction anticipated in July and August 2023, the WVA would remain open for all users and closure notices will be posted on the Refuge website.
The Refuge has prepared a draft EA to evaluate effects and alternatives associated with the proposed culvert removal and seeks public comment. The comment period for the draft EA will run for 30 days from January 5 – February 3, 2023.
Comments can be submitted by email to email@example.com with the subject line “Burnt Fork Creek Culvert Comment”.
Comments can be submitted by mail to: Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, Attn Burnt Fork Creek Culvert Comment, 4567 Wildfowl Lane, Stevensville, MT 59870.
A public meeting, with brief introductory presentation and open house style information sharing, will be held on January 18, 5:30-7:30pm at the Lee Metcalf Refuge Headquarters and Visitor Center: 4567 Wild Fowl Ln, Stevensville, MT 59870.
A copy of the draft EA can be found on the Refuge website library at: https://www.fws.gov/media/draft-environmental-assessment-north-burnt-fork-creek-restoration-lee-metcalf-nwr