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Warm water temperatures and low levels drive Nature Conservancy to close fishing access to Silver Creek Preserve

The typical busy summer season that brings in thousands is different this year as visitors are few and far between.

BELLEVUE, Idaho — The Nature Conservancy closed fishing access to Silver Creek Preserve on July 1 because of low water levels and high temperatures.  

The typical busy summer season that brings in thousands to this Blaine County creek - a renowned Idaho fishing destination -  now has few visitors.

“It's just different being out here and seeing it so quiet,” said Ronile Robinson, who has been volunteering at the preserve for 10 years. “About three years ago we had some restrictions, but we have never had this happen where we have had to actually shut the stream down."

Erika Phillips, the watershed manager with The Nature Conservancy, said the closure was made because the fish low-energy, lethargic and slow to recover in some places.

"When you see signs of that kind of stress combined with the water conditions, you know you need to do something,” Phillips said.

Phillips said brown trout and rainbow trout in the Silver Creek are cold-water fish. The trout get stressed out in any water temperatures above 70 degrees. Recent data showed that the stream temperatures are at 73 degrees, so when the temperature is 79 or 80 degrees, fish start to die off.

“We know that they are already naturally stressed by the water conditions so we're actually just removing that additional stress that humans would cause ether by catching them or wading in the creek,” Phillips said.

While the fish rest up, The Nature Conservancy is focusing its efforts on water projects, like working with agriculture producers to use less water. They’re also trying to find people to give away or sell their water rights, so they can keep recharging the creek. Education also plays a big role.

“It's not just agricultural water consumption that's an issue it's everybody using water to water major subdivision and keep the grass green all season, it's the landscaping and the golf courses and even people using a lot of water on their lawns in the valley, I mean all of that is cumulative, it's all water use and that's water that is not going into the aquifer for recharge to recharge places like this creek,” said Phillips.

Phillips stays hopeful that current and future generations will make a difference, because if not, the future of the fish is at stake.

“If we start to have these wanted temperatures then other species that are not necessarily what people like to catch, are going to be the ones that start thriving in here, it also raises the risk of disease and invasive that kind of stuff when the actual stream conditions are evolving. Maybe this is one of those, a blessing in disguise of telling people like this is real and it's happening here, and you can see it in your backyard," she said.

The Nature Conservancy will continue to monitor the water levels and temperature. There is no set day when the Silver Creek Preserve will reopen to anglers.

Fish and Game controls the rights to Silver Creek, but the nature conservancy that handles it is private property, giving them the right to restrict access. Signs and volunteers have been set up to let people know that fishing in the creek is restricted, although visiting the reserve to hike,picnic, or just hang out is still allowed. In areas of Silver Creek that fall outside the preserve, fishing is still allowed. 

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game says visitors should avoid boating or paddleboarding in the reserve for the time being due to the low water levels.