According to the Idaho Department of Lands, approximately 740,000 acres burned across the state of Idaho in 2015. The majority of those acres were found in Idaho forests, which house some of the best river and stream habitats for salmon spawning.
A desire to understand the relationship between fires and waterways led College of Idaho geoscience professor Jaime Goode to apply for and receive a $48,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Trust. That money will be used for a three-year project to study “Climate Change at the Forest-Stream Interface: The Role of Wildfire in Shaping Salmon Spawning Habitat.”
“The big-picture question of this research is how does climate change and wildfire cascade into the stream system?” Goode said. “So in other words, we want to know what happens to salmon habitat when wildfire forces the forest into the stream.”
After wildfires in mountain environments, the soils of burned hillslopes lose their protective forest cover and become highly susceptible to erosion by large rainstorms or rain-on-snow flooding. When hill slopes burn, and there is a large rain or snow event, landslides take a lot of sediment and wood into the stream. As the climate warms, the size and frequency of these events are expected to increase. Goode will look at how those debris flows change the physical habitat of streams found on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
The Middle Fork of the Salmon River offers pristine spawning grounds for wild chinook and sockeye salmon. These species travel more than 900 miles and climb nearly 7,000 feet of elevation from the Pacific Ocean to central Idaho where they return to spawn, according to the National Fish Habitat Board.
After determining last summer which watersheds of the Middle Fork would be ideal to research, Goode will start field work with two C of I students in summer 2016. They’ll visit tributary streams that have a range of fire histories and measure the physical characteristics that are important for salmon spawning habitat, such as the width, depth and slope of the stream, size of sediments in the streambed, variation in streambed topography, and the size and occurrence of weeds in the stream. Some wood and sediment in streams will also be tagged with microchips to monitor its movements over time. The data can then be compared between the different sites.
“The basic idea is to use space as a substitute for time and compare habitat complexity in response to time since wildfire. Then we can see how the fish have been responding by comparing our data to maps of Chinook salmon spawning sites that the US Forest Service has been surveying annually since the mid-90s,” Goode said.
This is familiar territory for Goode, who did post-doctoral research looking at climate change related disturbances and the impact on salmon spawning in areas such as central Idaho, western Washington and Scotland.
While this project is proposed as a three-year study to compare how each basin progresses, the intent is to use the information collected to pursue further grant funding in collaboration with researchers at other Idaho institutions.
“It’s a good starting place,” Goode said. “There is some opportunity to address some basic questions and provide the baseline data that is needed to complete a robust and competitive proposal for national grants, such as National Science Foundation grants. It’s also a great opportunity to get C of I students involved in collaborative research with scientists at research institutions and management agencies.”
C of I students interested in applying to research with Dr. Goode next summer are encouraged to contact her at [email protected].
The College of Idaho has a 125-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.