WRDS Library [Home]
Digital Library Publications Videos Card Catalog

WWRC 97-05b
The North Tounge River: A Collaborative Approach to Watershed Management


The North Tongue River is located on the northern end of the Bighorn National Forest, in north-central Wyoming. The stream originates on the western side of the Bighorn Mountain range at 3050-m above mean sea level (MSL) and flows east to its confluence with the South Tongue River at 2130-m above MSL. The North Tongue is a fourth order stream (Strahler, 1957) at the South Tongue River confluence, and has 97 first order, 20 second order, and 3 third order tributaries. The river drains approximately 150 square kilometers.

Paralleled for much of its length by U.S. Highway 14A, a scenic byway, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (1987) rates the North Tongue as a Class 3 (yellow ribbon) trout stream due to its aesthetics, availability to the public, and productivity. Class 3 is defined as "important trout waters, a fishery of regional importance."

There are populations of four trout species within the North Tongue River basin. These species are brook (Salvelinas fontinalis), brown (Salmo trutta), cutthroat (Oncorhynchus clarki), and rainbow (Oncorhynchus mykiss) trout.

Underlying geology is primarily quartzo-feldsparthic gneiss, a form of granitic rock with areas of limestone, sandstone, and shale inclusions in the overlying bedrock. The majority of the drainage is classified as general soil map unit Owen Creek-Tongue River-Gateway. Nesser (1986) describes this unit as "moderately deep, well-drained soils that formed in material derived from interbedded shale, sandstone, and limestone, on mountainsides and landslide deposits." The Owen Creek soils formed in colluvium derived from interbedded shale and sandstone on mountainsides and landslide deposits, and support a big sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata) - Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis) grassland community. Tongue River soils formed in residuum from soft sandstone and shale on mountainsides and support a lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) forest community. Gateway soils formed in residuum derived from shale and limestone on mountainsides and support Engelman spruce (Picea engelmanii) dominated communities (Nesser, 1986). Land uses within the drainage include roads, road construction, timber harvest, grazing (livestock and wildlife), and recreation.

The North Tongue River basin is an area of concern for many people, organizations, and entities. Limited natural recruitment occurs for all trout species in the watershed (Hubert and Wesche, 1994). A lack of suitable spawning habitat is believed to be the cause, and land uses may contribute by supplementing natural sediment levels. Sediment may reduce reproductive success by blocking water flow through spawning gravels; reducing the amount of dissolved oxygen reaching the eggs and fry. In the mid-1980's the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) determined that virtually all stocked fingerling cutthroat trout were eliminated within 15 months of stocking. Angler harvest was the largest cause (Stewart, 1995). Processes such as naturally erosive geologic conditions, limited spawning habitat within the drainage, and disjunct distributions of habitat suitable for spawning, rearing, and adult habitat may be contributing to the problem (Hubert and Wesche, 1994). A lack of overwinter habitat for juvenile and adult fish may also be limiting in the system (Stewart, 1995).

The low trout reproductive rate has caused concern which resulted in the creation of the North Tongue Working Group in the early 1990's. The Working Group is an assembly of stakeholders who have been brought together to examine the watershed problems and develop solutions in a collaborative manner. It is composed of: the Bighorn Forest Grazing Permittee Association, Trout Unlimited; Bighorn Forest Users Coalition; Bighorn Forest Cabin Owners Association; Wyoming Game and Fish Department; U.S. Forest Service; Bighorn National Forest; and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.

Gray (1985) defines collaboration as "the pooling of appreciation and/or tangible resources, e.g., information, money, labor, etc., by two or more stakeholders, to solve a set of problems which neither can solve individually." Three major steps lead to collaboration (McCann, 1983):

  1. Problem setting - identification of the stakeholders and the issues which join them;

  2. Direction setting - understanding of stakeholder values which drive their involvement; and

  3. Structuring - recognition of interdependence among stakeholders (Gray, 1985).

Objectives of collaboration are to allow inquiry and to develop common values regarding resource use (Selin and Chavez, 1995). The assembly chooses between forms of collaboration based on motivation and desired outcomes. The four forms are:

  1. Appreciative planning - This is motivated by a desire to advance a shared vision. The outcome is information sharing. This form can be used to lay the ground work for the remaining three forms.

  2. Partnership - This requires shared goals and results in assignment of shared responsibility to stakeholders to realize the goals.

  3. Dialogue - Used to set out differences and search for common ground without resulting in binding agreements.

  4. Negotiated settlements - Produces a binding agreement that is ratified by all participants to resolve conflict (Selin and Chavez, 1995).

Appreciative planning most closely describes the collaborative form currently being used by the North Tongue Working Group. The stakeholders have come together with common concerns to exchange information and search for a solution. In the process of this search the group has determined that there was insufficient information to conclusively identify the cause of the low reproductive rates. To address this question, the WGFD funded a research project at the University of Wyoming, entitled "Development of an Ecosystem-Based Approach to Assessment of Watersheds for the Management of Trout Fisheries in Wyoming." The objectives of the study are to:

  1. Describe the sediment delivery patterns to the North Tongue River and determine what watershed characteristics influence these patterns.

  2. Determine how geomorphic feature distribution affects trout habitat and trout population distribution and evaluate Geographic Information System (GIS) support for watershed analysis.

  3. Conduct a literature review and survey of state agencies to develop an approach for collaborative fisheries management at a watershed scale.

  4. Test the collaborative approach and GIS support using the North Tongue River and the information developed for objectives 1 and 2.

The study began in January 1996, and is projected to be complete by the end of 1999. Research is attempting to determine the reason for the low level of trout recruitment, how much of the problem is attributable to natural conditions, and how much is attributable to land use. When the research is complete, results will be turned over to the WGFD and thus to the Working Group. They will then determine a course of action.

How the collaborative process proceeds on the North Tongue River is yet to be determined. Any of the four collaborative designs could be used depending on the outcome identified as desirable and necessary by the Working Group. If the goal is limited to information exchange only, appreciative planning may be used. Dialogue may be used if the information exposes differing views and common ground needs to be found. A partnership is possible if solid agreement is reached through appreciative planning or dialogue on the goal and the methods to reach it. The partnership would have members agreeing on roles and responsibilities for each stakeholder. A negotiated settlement could result if the working group determines that a binding arrangement, to which all stakeholders agree, is the desired end.

Water Resources Publications List
Water Resources Data System Library | Water Resources Data System Homepage