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Stream Restoration and Improving Fisheries

04 Aug
Buzz Tatom August 4, 2016 0

Updated 4/24/18

Stream restoration has become a multi-billion dollar industry with clients ranging from the commercial industry to government to private landowners. This became necessary due to the degradation of streams from a number of factors. Stream restoration is critical due to the fact that trout anglers annually contribute in excess of $13 billion to the US economy (USFWS 2010). That has made land with good water very valuable and private landowner of ranches in Montana have realized that money spent on stream restoration is money well spent. Montana ranches for sale with good trout fisheries will command a premium in today’s recreational property market.

Degradation of Streams

Degradation of our fisheries happens for a number of reasons and they all contribute to the decline of a number of great fisheries through Montana and the West in general. The end result is a problem of erosion, sediment, turbidity, water flow and blockage of fry and aquatic life. Stream degradation on Montana ranches and farms can be caused by a number of factors and most times a combination of several. Montana is a beautiful place where people desire to live, recreate and vacation. Development in Montana has not always been carefully planned. Roads, bridges, and drainages, if not carefully planned, can have monumental impacts on streams. These permanent structures can not only disturb historic habitat but they can cause years of disruptions by changing water flows and creating deep holes that previously didn’t exist.


Cattle crossings can be a problem for several Montana ranches as well. When we tour ranches for sale in Montana, this is one of the things that can affect the recreational value. Cattle crossings through streams degrade the streams because it causes a severe disturbance to the river bed. It also kicks up massive amounts of sediment into the stream, which affects everything downstream. Even if cattle are not crossing a stream, they may have access to water for watering purposes. This causes stream degradation because the cattle’s excrement is carried downstream and pollutes the waterway. Often times, cattle destroy the banks of streams trying to get to water further attributing to the deterioration of a stream.

Mining and Logging

Mining and logging have a big impact on Montana ranches as well. Chemicals, tailings, and the straightening of stream beds can vastly and quickly affect a fishery and diminish its quality. The byproducts of mining are washed downstream, degrading the entire stream from the point of contact, down. Trees can, if large, draw over 100 gallons of water out of the ground and release it into the air. Logging removes these trees and a large amount of water is no longer being drawn from the stream. This can increase the overall water flow of a stream and accelerate the erosion rate.

Farms and Irrigation

Then you have the effects of irrigation, pesticides, and fertilizers that Montana farmers and ranchers have to deal with in their streams. Also, farmers and ranchers in Montana build dams and road crossings across streams. Great care has to be taken not to block the passage of fish and or aquatic insect life. This can throw a trout stream or feeder stream into turmoil and greatly affect a trout fishery.

Thankfully, both government and private landowners in Montana realized the damage to tourism and the land values of Montana ranches and farms. The impact on the sales price for Montana ranches can be vast. The difference in prices of ranches that have good fisheries can be 3-5 times greater than properties without good fisheries. This represents investment opportunities from rehabilitation of streams to enhancing sizes of fish. Nothing attaches a buyer to a property like big trout.


The Objective of Stream Restoration

The objective for most stream restoration projects boil down to five factors according to wildfish.montana.edu and all five have similar if not the same solutions.

  1. Enhancement of water quality through the planting of stream side native plants and reduction of sediment.
  2. Managing the riparian zones for reduction of erosion and sediment and for the filtration of runoff for clean water entering the stream.
  3. Improving the habitat of the stream bed. This can be done through adding plants or rocks along the shore. Rocks keep the channel from widening and having lateral loss of water. This can also mean removing rocks from the bottom of the stream bed to give a deeper flow or a different direction of flow. By adding strategic placement of rocks you create holes, riffles and other features that improve trout habitat.
  4. Improving fish passage. If you don’t have adequate pass through of water for fish movement this can also be detrimental for a fishery. Montana ranches and farms over the years might have put in culverts that have impacted fry and aquatic life from being able to pass through to main channels. Stream restoration restores the ability for fry and aquatic life to get to the main channel.
  5. Stabilizing stream banks through planting or adding gravel is very important to keep erosion and turbidity at an acceptable level. If you have a ranch for sale in Montana all these things need to be looked at before potential buyers show up. A number of them are putting significant value on the fishery and you want it to look the best it possibly can.

Stream Restoration Improvements

Most of this has been covered, but improvements usually fall into categories that improve what we have talked about from above. Planting vegetation or placing gravel along river banks helps to stabilize the banks. This helps water filtration through grass, cutting down on sediment and controlling the width of the stream. The new vegetation and gravel also prevents the erosion of the banks.

Improving water flow is another improvement that helps increase fish size and population. This can be done through redoing dams and culverts, improving curves of the stream, adding in stream features and removing or adding key rocks for depth and water flow.

Sometimes overlooked but very important is making irrigation systems on farms more efficient to reduce the draw on the stream. Irrigation equipment efficiency continues to improve over time through technology, further enabling water to be used more efficiently.

One other improvement is a reduction of cattle crossings or location of cattle crossings. This can be done through obstructions, fencing or building of animal bridges. Cattle do great damage to the stream bed and reduce fish habitat. At times, you are better to reduce the number of cattle or limit access points for the cattle to reduce damage.

Why Should You Participate in Stream Restoration?

Stream restoration is a win win for all stakeholders involved. Wildlife benefit greatly and this in turn rewards the land owner or the public, greatly. The difference in value that a land owner can receive from a ranch or farm that has a restored, well kept stream is significant. There is nothing that sells a ranch in Montana quicker than being able to show big trout and big game. It opens up a whole new market of potential buyers for your ranch. Having a ranch for sale in Montana that has excellent river habitat and fish population allows you to market your ranch nationally, not locally. Big trout are one of the best selling points that a Montana ranch can have.

Cost of Stream Restoration

The cost of stream restoration can vary depending on many factors. Location, size of the stream to be restored, materials, present condition of stream and how much stream to be restored are a few of these factors. You can use @ $10-14 per linear foot as a budgeting number but realize that is a very rough number, until you actually get someone to see the scope of the project. Stream restoration projects are done by different types of professionals. The preference is always someone that has expertise in fishery restoration and understand what trout need to survive and flourish. I don’t want to say there are not dirt contractors that don’t do a very good job, because there are, and some become very good at it. Like everything I do, I want the odds in my favor. That means you have a higher chance of stream restoration success if you use a fisheries expert. You will most likely pay more for the fisheries expert but being able to show the results with numbers of big healthy trout is a pretty good investment that will give returns beyond just financially. Remember, land investments produce great memories!

Here are a few companies to consider in stream restoration in Montana:

Glacier Excavating

Confluence Inc.

Miller Recreational

You may also find Trout Unlimited helpful but that usually requires some amount of access given if you are a private landowner. Understand that in Montana you need to get a permit for stream restoration. You can read about the process here. Professionals that do stream restoration will most likely help in the permitting process.

Here at VWR, we are able to get involved at any stage in helping determine scope, cost, and additional value that can be attained through a stream restoration project. We bring a market knowledge to the table that helps in making decisions. Hopefully, you have found this helpful. It was meant to be a beginning discussion on a subject that will lead you down the path of learning new scientific words that you can amaze people at dinner parties with or after they just landed the biggest trout out of your stream restoration project!

If you want to dive deeper, the following resources were used for information in this article.







If you found this article helpful you might also find this article on building additional revenue streams for Montana farms and ranches helpful. You can also check out a couple of our properties here at North Slope Ranch and Missouri Breaks Retreat. You also might enjoy our article about fly fishing properties, where we outline the benefits of fly fishing properties to owners. This gives you two very different price points to fit your needs.

If you are interested in looking for or marketing a ranch for sale in Montana please give us a call or email us. You will find us always low key and we enjoy the process, the land, and the people we get to interact with!

Until next time.


About the Author


Montana Ranch Real Estate

Buzz Tatom

Partner at Venture West Ranches

Buzz Tatom, a partner at Venture West Ranches, is a ranch owner and has built, run and sold numerous businesses in his career. This gives him a unique background in helping Montana farmers and ranchers navigate the life decisions that we all have to face. Whether it is passing a ranch on to the next generation or planning for eventual sale, his talents and contacts help save clients money and navigate complicated transactions.

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