Ramshorn Creek Restoration

Area Summary

Ramshorn Creek is a tributary to the Ruby River. It runs for approximately 14.7 miles from its headwaters in the Southern Tobacco Root Mountains to its confluence with the Ruby River above Silver Springs. Currant Creek is a 3.6 mile tributary to Ramshorn Creek. The upper reaches of Ramshorn Creek hold remnant westslope cutthroat trout populations. This remnant population holds potential for fishery restoration but is also vulnerable to downstream introductions of non-native fish.

Characteristic, high eroding banks plaguing Ramshorn Creek

Impairments

Ramshorn Creek accounts for half of the roadway sediment contribution into the Ruby River watershed. Additional sediment sources include historical and current grazing management practices. In addition to having major impairments from sediment loading, the stream has also had issues with temperature, de-watering, and loss of functioning riparian area.

A close up view of the highly erodible placer deposits on the bank of Ramshorn Creek.

Irrigation withdrawals have at time caused  dewatering and periodic loss of connectivity with the main stem of the Ruby River. Floodplain alterations keel the stream from accessing many side channels where it would then water and revitalize riparian vegetation. Lead concentrations were found to exceed chronic aquatic life standards at higher flows during runoff events. A combination of abandoned mine sites in the Ramshorn Creek watershed above the Currant Creek confluence are likely contributing metals to the stream during runoff events.

Ramshorn Creek has been straightened and placed into ditches throughout much of its length. Straightening has led to high levels of incision, disconnection from the stream’s historic  floodplain, and the presence of many active headcuts. An estimated total of ~75% of the stream’s length is incised meaning that the channel is 1) actively producing excessive sediment through bank or bed erosion and 2) the current channel dimensions allow for very little long -term sediment storage in the stream or its floodplain.

Restoration Work

In 2006, the DEQ determined that Ramshorn Creek had significant sediment and metal impairments impacting aquatic life and fisheries. Ramshorn Creek is one of two creeks in the Ruby Valley left with a native population  of unhybridized, native Westslope Cutthroat Trout (WCT).  In 2017, the RVCD began restoration work on Ramshorn Creek with help from numerous partners and landowner support. Restoration on Ramshorn Creek had two major compents: improving habiat and sediment loads through stream restoration and the placement of fish passage barrier preventing the migration of invasive fish species into WCT habitat. We used restoration techniques that rely on natural hydrologic and geomorphic processes to reconnect the stream with its floodplain and encourage meandering.  The RVCD regraded and revegetated ~750 ft of stream where large cutbanks supplied large amounts of fine sediment to the stream. Five structures were placed to induce meandering along 1060 ft of streambank. The purpose of these restoration techiniques was to
  1. Reduce sediment loading from cutbanks
  2. Reconnect the stream to its floodplain promoting better riparian vegetation and wildlife habitat
  3. Elevate the water table
  4. Increase shading and decrease stream temperatures in the summer
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) has done a significant amount of work to preserve WCT on Ramshorn Creek. Check out more information about FWP’s work in the RVCD’s Natural Resource News article in the Madisonian here!
Ramshorn Creek Stream Restoration Project Before
Ramshorn Creek Stream Restoration Project After

Funding

Funding for this project was made available through a MT DEQ 319 Grant, MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks Future Fisheries Initiative Grant, and Montana Trout Unlimited.