Bear Creek is a feisty little stream. Angular gravel from Pikes Peak fills its bed, low flows during summer months degrade water quality, excessive erosion caused by runoff plagues the streams riparian habitat, and massive flooding events grind growing invertebrate life into an inedible smoothie. Protecting this stream seems like a daunting task but not to the Cheyenne Mountain Chapter of Colorado Trout Unlimited (CMCTU).
Since the discovery of an irregular looking fish 12 years ago the chapter has worked tirelessly with the Bear Creek Roundtable, a collection of invested parties made up of The National Forest Service (NFS), Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), El Paso County Open Space, trail advocates, and others, to protect Bear Creek through public awareness campaigns, fundraising, and volunteerism. But, why? The answer to that is easy: greenback cutthroat trout.
CMCTU helped fund, through a $9,000 donation, the 2012 Metcalf study that solidified the fish in Bear Creek as the true greenbacks. This solidification of what was thought to be, propelled the small, troubled stream, filled with small starving trout, into the public eye.
CMCTU and members of the Bear Creek Roundtable moved quickly to protect the greenbacks and their water shed. Through their collaborative effort they were able to secure grant money, public support and request under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), an assessment be done on the health of the Bear Creek ecosystem. As most thing go with the federal government the NEPA process was long and hard fought. But, instead of twiddling their thumbs the partners worked to secure grant money so restoration, protection, and preservation could begin immediately.
CMCTU secured a grant awarded by The Western Native Trout Initative, to repair and restore sections of trail along Bear Creek that contributed to increased sediment flow. Money in hand CMCTU hired The Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI) to contract with Mile High Youth Corps (MHYC) for the decommissioning of delinquent trails. Along with trail crews, CMCTU also coordinated volunteer days to include the public in what was to be one of the most anticipated local restoration projects of the year.
Trail crews were hired, Volunteers were assembled and CMCTU primed their cameras for show time. The project did not disappoint. Over a two week time period youthful spirits worked to repair riparian habitat destroyed by unauthorized trails. The crew and volunteers reseeded damaged areas, laid deadfall over the rouge trail, and replanted many local, native plants for future erosion mitigation. CMCTU will continue to work with RMFI, MHYC, and volunteers from across the state in their efforts to secure the well being of greenback cutthroat trout in the Bear Creek ecosystem.
Work that is being done and has been done at Bear Creek is a lynch pin in the story of the greenbacks. Without the Bear Creek fish we may have never known a true greenback. The gene pool of these fish must be preserved and deepened. To do this the original gene pool at Bear Creek must be protected and populations of naturally reproducing fish must be established throughout the South Platte watershed. This is no easy task.
The vetting process a stream goes through to make the cut for greenback reintroduction is arduous to say the least. The stream must first and foremost be in the South Platte drainage. Then the stream must have adequate water quality, be free of whirling disease and be located in a relatively remote location. Once these criteria have been met a barrier must be constructed to prevent the spread of invasive trout species back up the stream. Barriers are not free, neither is the scouting necessary for finding a stream of such quality.
This, again, is where CMCTU and partners come in. CMCTU, CPW, FWS and Colorado Trout Unlimited chapters across the state have taken on the challenge of finding new streams to be filled with greenbacks. Their goal is to raise $15,000 that will be matched by the NFS for a total of $30,000. These funds will be used to hire a water consulting firm responsible for finding streams adequate for greenbacks. CMCTU has put forth $5,000 towards the fundraising efforts and is currently working with involved parties to raise more funds.
That is the future, and it looks bright. Let’s look to the recent past for a success story that solidifies the efforts of all. Through CMCTU, CTU, CPW, NFS, and a whole lot more greenback reintroduction, into a stream, has been realized for the first time.
Rock Creek is a small tributary of Tarryall Creek (a tributary of the South Platte) located in the Lost Creek Wilderness Area. Access the stream requires backpacks, hiking boots, and strong legs. A team made up of members from CPW, CMCTU, Cutthroat Chapter of Trout Unlimited and NFS, was assembled to hike packs filled with greenbacks into the small creek the week of July 11. Their efforts helped move the greenbacks and all parties with a vested interest in seeing these fish return home, one step closer to a goal of 20 self-sustaining populations across the South Platte Drainage.
There are many milestones to come for greenback cutthroat trout. Among them are creating meta-populations in headwater ecosystems, improving genetic fitness, state wide fame, and improved watershed health the state over. These all snowball towards the magic 20. 20 self-sustaining populations of greenbacks will ensure that our state fish will be here to stay. 20 can be realized. We can look to the teamwork, commitment, and passion of CMCTU and their partners as a status quo model for greenback restoration. Through a collective effort like this greenback sustainability moves out from under the shadow of uncertainty to the speckled sunlight of high mountain streams across the South Platte Drainage.
Colton Gully is a paid intern at Colorado Trout Unlimited. He is working to create weekly content that will connect the fragmented puzzle pieces of greenback restoration efforts into a coherent story. This article is based off of an interview done with CMCTU member Don Logelin on Monday July 18, 2016.