Within the last century, the lower Boise River has been transformed from a meandering, braided, gravel-bed river that supported large runs of salmon to a channelized, regulated, urban river that provides flood control and irrigation water to more than 1,200 square miles of land. An understanding of the current status of the river's fish communities and related environmental conditions is important to support the ongoing management of the Boise River. Therefore, fish community data from the U.S. Geological Survey and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game collected since 1974 were analyzed to describe the status of fish communities in the lower Boise River. Each set of data was collected to address different study objectives, but is combined here to provide an overall distribution of fish in the lower Boise River over the last 30 years. Twenty-two species of fish in 7 families have been identified in the lower Boise River-3 salmonidae, trout and whitefish; 2 cottidae, sculpins; 3 catostomidae, suckers; 7 cyprinidae, minnows; 4 centrarchidae, sunfish; 2 ictaluridae, catfish; and 1 cobitidae, loach.
Analysis of fish community data using an Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) for Northwest rivers shows a decrease in the biotic integrity in a downstream direction, with the lowest IBI near the mouth of the Boise River. The number of tolerant and introduced fish were greater in the lower reaches of the river. Changes in land use, habitat, and water quality, as well as regulated streamflow have affected the lower Boise River fish community. IBI scores were negatively correlated with maximum instantaneous water temperature, specific conductance, and suspended sediment; as well as the basin land-use metrics, area of developed land, impervious surface area, and the number of major diversions upstream of a site. Fish communities in the upstream reaches were dominated by piscivorous fish, whereas the downstream reaches were dominated by tolerant, omnivorous fish. The percentage of sculpin in the river decreased in a downstream direction, and sculpin disappear completely at sites downstream of Glenwood Bridge. The sculpin population increased downstream of the Lander wastewater-treatment facility within the last decade, possibly as a result of improved wastewater treatment. The condition of the mountain whitefish (Prosopium williamsoni) throughout the lower Boise River was good and was similar both to the condition of mountain whitefish from least-disturbed rivers in southern Idaho and to the North American standard weight for mountain whitefish.