The Red River watershed is a very large and important watershed within the South Fork of the Clearwater River Subbasin. The watershed contains a disproportionately high amount of the aquatic potential in the South Fork Clearwater River Subbasin, therefore playing a vital role in aquatic species conservation and recovery (USDA 1999). The Red River watershed is approximately 103,348 acres in size and arises from Dixie Summit in the south and an area near Red River Hot Springs in the northeast, and then flows into the South Fork Clearwater River below Elk City, Idaho.
Red River has had a large amount of management activity. The watershed has been affected by historic mining, a moderate level of roads that encroach on stream/riparian processes, and grazing effects along the mainstem. There have been about 23,000 acres of timber harvest in Red River (22% of the area and 37% of the harvest in the South Fork Clearwater River Subbasin). About 5,000 acres of this harvest has been in the Riparian Habitat Conservation Area (RHCA) (about 25% of the RHCA Roads in the South Fork subbasin). There are very few large areas of low development. However, where they do exist, most are in the upper subdivision. The current Equivalent Clearcut Area (ECA) for the watershed is 12% and the current modeled sediment yield is 24% over natural base (the highest in the South Fork Subbasin). The overall condition rating for Red River is low, with a portion of the upper drainage rated moderate. The Forest Plan fish/water quality objective established for Red River is 90%. The current condition is considered well below this objective, greater than 20% below Forest Plan Objective (USDA 1998). Many streams in Red River are designated as water quality limited by the State of Idaho because of high sediment yield.
The aquatic condition and the population dynamics of aquatic species have been influenced by this change in disturbance regimes. There has been a reduction in habitat condition based on both the change in disturbance frequency, and the streams’ sensitivity to change. The watershed has changed from a condition with patches of active disturbance/recovery, surrounded by areas of stable, high quality habitat, to a condition of homogenously degraded habitat (USDA 1998). The ability of aquatic species to persist has been reduced, and the ability to rebuild or refound areas from local stronger populations has also been reduced (USDA 1998).
Red River has spring Chinook salmon, steelhead, bull trout, and westslope cutthroat present in the watershed, with wide distribution (USDA 1998). While generally found in low numbers, there are pockets of higher densities. Pacific lamprey are found migrating into Red River in relatively high numbers. Brook trout, and small numbers of rainbow hatchery rainbow are present and widely distributed through the watershed with some areas of high density. Red River is considered a historic stronghold for all four fish species at risk assessed (USDA 1998).
Aquatic restoration is a high priority for this watershed (USDA 1998). The sediment regime should be the primary focus of aquatic restoration (USDA 1999). The unique aquatic potential of this watershed makes it an important watershed to restore. Even given the high level of historic management activity, and the presence of brook trout, this watershed still supports aquatic species at relatively high levels (USDA 1998). This is probably due to both restoration efforts that have been accomplished in the watershed and the watershed’s inherent high capability. With the very high capability of this watershed, even at a reduced condition, this watershed can play a vital role in aquatic species conservation in the subbasin (USDA 1998).