Native Trout

Extinct no more! CPW discovers remnant San Juan trout

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has found cutthroat trout that are unique to the San Juan River Basin in southwest Colorado. Photo courtesy of  Colorado Parks and Wildlife . 

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has found cutthroat trout that are unique to the San Juan River Basin in southwest Colorado. Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) biologists recently discovered a unique genetic lineage of the Colorado River cutthroat trout in southwest Colorado that was previously thought to be extinct. The discovery was officially recognized earlier this year thanks to advanced DNA testing techniques. Eight small populations of these trout have been found in isolated habitats on streams of the San Juan River Basin within the San Juan National Forest and on private property.
 
Based on two samples from 1874 and housed in the Smithsonian, researchers from the University of Colorado previously identified a Colorado River cutthroat trout lineage with genetic markers unique to the San Juan basin. Unfortunately, no modern populations of the lineage were known to remain at that time.  CPW researchers and biologists, however, set out to test all the southwest Colorado cutthroat trout populations they could find to see if any carried the unique San Juan genetic fingerprint.  Their efforts bore fruit with this year’s discovery of eight such small populations.

“We always ask ourselves, ‘What if we could go back to the days before pioneer settlement and wide-spread non-native fish stocking to see what we had here?’”
— Jim White, CPW Biologist

 “Careful work over the years by biologists, finding those old specimens in the museum and the genetic testing gave us the chance, essentially, to go back in time. Now we have the opportunity to conserve this native trout in southwest Colorado.” said CPW biologist, Jim White.

Colorado TU and the Five Rivers Chapter stand to play a key role in the story of these fish going forward.  “This is far and away the most exciting thing to happen to southwest native trout in my lifetime,” said TU representative Garrett Hanks of Durango. “I am excited to participate in the future of the San Juan cutthroat trout – from headwaters to the high desert.”

TU has a track record of partnership in successful native fish restoration projects in the region, working closely with CPW and the San Juan National Forest.  Among other projects, the partners have collaborated to restore Colorado River cutthroat trout into the headwaters of the Hermosa Creek watershed – building barriers to secure fish from downstream invasion by non-natives, improving stream and riparian habitat, and helping with reintroduction efforts.  The discovery of remnant San Juan lineage fish opens the door for new restoration efforts into additional, suitable habitats.

“We’ve appreciated the chance to work with such great partners to conserve native trout in southwest Colorado,” said CTU Executive Director David Nickum.  “It is nothing less than remarkable to now have the chance to join them in restoring a fish we thought had been lost to extinction.”

Biologists have already had to sweep into action to protect the rare, newly-found cutthroats.  Two populations were in areas impacted by the 416 fire this summer, and fish were salvaged from those habitats to preserve their unique genetic stocks before they could be lost to post-fire ash flows.

A fish barrier installed to protect Hermosa Creek native trout, through a partnership including the San Juan National Forest, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Trout Unlimited.  More such projects will be needed to secure homes for the newly-rediscovered San Juan lineage cutthroat.

A fish barrier installed to protect Hermosa Creek native trout, through a partnership including the San Juan National Forest, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Trout Unlimited.  More such projects will be needed to secure homes for the newly-rediscovered San Juan lineage cutthroat.

5 Tips for Avoiding Frustrations with Tenkara & Native Greenback Cutthroat

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Tenkara USA's Daniel Galhardo and Colorado Trout Unlimited's Dan Omasta, Grassroots Coordinator recently sat down to talk about CTU's efforts in river conservation and fisheries protections across the state. Omasta discusses the recent policy victories for public lands as well as CTU's programs in youth education and community engagement. They also discussed the true lineage of the native Greenback Cutthroat Trout and why some anglers might be surprised to learn that they have been seeing a hybrid version of Colorado's state fish rather than a true greenback. This is because of recent a study by scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where they found that the pure genetics of the greenback were isolated to ponds just outside of Bear Creek and Bear Creek itself. Take a listen below or read the full transcript of the episode here

Native trout hitch a ride home on the backs of volunteers

Pictured: UpslopeBrewing Co., Western Native Trout Initiative, and Colorado Trout Unlimited. 

Pictured: UpslopeBrewing Co., Western Native Trout Initiative, and Colorado Trout Unlimited. 

CLEAR CREEK, CO – This week, the endangered Greenback Cutthroat Trout got a major boost from Trout Unlimited volunteers and agency partners in Colorado. 

Once thought to be extinct, this rare fish is making a big comeback thanks to the efforts of the Greenback Cutthroat Recovery Team – a partnership that includes the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife, the National Park Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Western Native Trout Initiative, and Trout Unlimited.

Over the course of two days in mid-July, 1,700 Year 1 Cutthroats (~4-6 inches) made their way into two headwater drainages in the Clear Creek Watershed, an hour west of Denver, CO.  The Dry Gulch and Herman Gulch creeks represent the first major river populations for this threatened species since it was rediscovered in 2012. 

To help agency partners stock these important little fish, over 80 Trout Unlimited volunteers carried the cutthroats in large packs up steep switchbacks and bush-wacked through dense brush to get to the remote rivers.  Some people hiked over six miles into the top of the drainage (over 11,500 feet)! These volunteers came from ten different TU chapters and represented all walks of life – anglers and conservationists coming together to recover this native trout.

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“We couldn’t do it without the volunteers,” says Paul Winkle, Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist for the Clear Creek Drainage.  It was a major undertaking that took a lot of support from agency staff, non-profit partners, and local businesses.

At Colorado TU, we are very proud of the hard work and dedication that our chapters and volunteers provide to these projects. It shows what can happen when people focus on collaboration and overcoming differences.  It didn’t matter whether someone was young or old, Democrat or Republican, a dry fly purist or never fished before – we were all side by side, climbing those steep trails together. All to save the Greenback.

That's right! Over 80 volunteers and 20+ agency staff from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, US Forest Service, and US Fish and Wildlife service packed up 1700 native Greenback cutthroat trout to be released along Dry Gulch and Herman Gulch on July 16 & 18. These little trout were raised in a hatchery as part of  a statewide effort to restore population's of Colorado's state fish. I'm not sure if you can tell if a fish is happy, but those little guys sure looked excited to be released into their new home. Check out the video spotlight that CBS Local Channel 4 did about the effort, below:

Feeling inspired? Learn more about Native Trout across Colorado - the efforts to protect and restore populations and ways to get involved.

A big shout out to all the volunteers who came out to hike and haul the native trout to their new homes, and to the various groups and agencies that came out to restore Colorado's native fisheries. Read the full story that CBS Channel 4 News did here.

Pictured: Western Native Trout Initiative Sticker and Dublin Dog Co. trout collar. 

Pictured: Western Native Trout Initiative Sticker and Dublin Dog Co. trout collar. 

Thank you to the following:

 

Hermosa 416 Fire Update: Spreading into Native Colorado River Cutthroat Trout habitat

High Quality map available for download  here .

High Quality map available for download here.

Update from National TU Staffer, Ty Churchwell, San Juan Mountains Coordinator & Sportsmen’s Conservation Project:

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The 416 fire that started June 1, 2018 located 13 miles north of Durango, CO is currently over 35,000 acres large and is at 36% contained as of June 27, 2018 (seen in red outline & fill). Currently, the fire has encroached upon a large section of an isolated native cutthroat population along Clear Creek (traced with blue in the bottom left corner). You can see that most of that drainage has been hit. Clear Creek has been hit hard and currently burning more.

The middle-left creek, Big Bend, also highlighted in blue is currently an isolated population of native cutthroats that are held safe from invasives by a natural waterfall. The other blue lines at the top of the map indicated where the reintroduction program waters are. The basin continues north along with the reintroduction program, but the map cuts off about 1/4 of that. The reintroduction program and Big Bend are clear of fire right now. 

It’s mostly burning back on itself with about 100 acres of additional acreage in recent days.  There are two hot spots:  1) very near/at Clear Creek’s top end.  2)  in the interior of Hermosa burning NW towards Big Bend.  

Currently, updates are being posted on the 416 Facebook page here.

National Funds to Support Greenback Recovery in CO

JANUARY 4, 2018 – The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) has recently announced their slate of awardees for the competitive Bring Back the Natives Grant (BBN)– a program that will provide $1 million in grants to support habitat restoration and other on-the-ground projects that advance recovery goals of native fish throughout the United States in 2018-19. A partnership between NFWF, the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bass Pro Shops and the Brunswick Public Foundation, “Bring Back the Natives represents the benefits of coordinated efforts between private landowners and federal agencies to improve the health of watersheds,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO, NFWF.

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As one of the 15 grant recipients, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) will receive $60,000 to support the design and construction of a critical temporary fish barrier on Cornelius Creek.  Located in the US Forest Service Canyon Lakes Ranger District (USFS-CLRD), the George and Cornelius Creek drainage is one of the most significant Greenback Cutthroat recovery sites to date.

The Greenback cutthroat trout is currently listed as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, and is believed to have been endemic to coldwater streams and lakes of the South Platte River Basin. Once a thriving species, the Greenback has suffered significant impacts from human development, competition from non-native fish, and the introduction of whirling disease.  Once thought to be extinct, the native trout is making a comeback thanks to a coalition of state and federal agencies, non-profits, private landowners, and public volunteers.

The George and Cornelius Creek watershed has been identified as a high priority for establishing a robust Greenback cutthroat trout metapopulation. Due to its relatively low elevation compared to that of many other streams in the basin where cutthroat trout reintroduction may be feasible, these creeks feature thermal conditions that fall within an optimal range for cutthroat trout recruitment. Additionally, these streams are already managed for a Greenback cutthroat trout recovery population with regard to the Endangered Species Act, Section 7.

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Due to the complexity of the habitat within the drainage, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the US Forest Service will take on the project in stages.  With the presence of both whirling disease (WD) and non-native fish in the area, biologists will build three temporary barriers that will segment the two tributaries and allow for effective treatment over the next few years.  Once the streams have been cleared of WD and non-native competitors, the Greenbacks will be introduced.  This process is expected to take several years.

The desired outcome of the entire multi-phase project is successful establishment of a self-sustaining Greenback cutthroat trout population in 14 miles of connected habitat. At this writing, Greenbacks only occur in the wild in four waters, three of which are the result of recent introductions.

The Greenback Cutthroat Trout Recovery Plan (US Fish & Wildlife Service 1998), although in the early stages of being updated, calls for—among several other requirements—stable Greenback populations in at least 31 stream miles in order for the species to be considered for de-listing. Currently, there are no stream populations in the South Platte Basin that meet the Recovery Plan’s criteria for “stable conservation populations.” Therefore, the importance of the George and Cornelius Creek Project, which is slated to create up to 14 miles of such habitat, cannot be overstated.

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The Cornelius Creek barrier is essential to the overall success of the project by enabling CPW biologists to treat the upper section of the creek while concurrent restoration work is being completed in the other units.  With the funding provided by the NFWF Bring Back the Natives Grant, CPW will now have the resources necessary to move forward in this critical recovery effort and secure a large drainage for the Greenback.

Note: Due to various treatment protocols for Whirling Disease (which has been found in the area), the entire project will likely be completed near 2026.  The barriers will be in place by the end of 2019.  For more information, please contact Dan Omasta, CTU Grassroots Coordinator (domasta@tu.org).

For more information on the NFWF BBN Grant and other recipients, Click Here.

Keeping Natives Alive on Abrams Creek

A unique species of native cutthroat on Abrams Creek: help is on the way.  By Randy Scholfield

Living with less water—that’s the reality facing all of us who depend on the Upper Colorado River for our drinking water, food production, and outdoor recreation.

A recent scientific paper found that the Upper Colorado River Basin has lost 7 percent of its flows in last three decades due to higher temperatures caused by human-induced climate change. In a basin that supplies water for 40 million people and where every drop is used and accounted for, that’s only the latest red flag that our world is changing and that we need to take collective action to keep our rivers and communities healthy.

That’s why projects like Abrams Creek are so important.

This tiny creek outside of Gypsum has a rare population of native Colorado River cutthroat trout that’s genetically unique and the only aboriginal trout population in the Eagle River watershed. And because Abrams Creek has a lower elevation than many cutthroat streams, say biologists, its native trout might be better adapted to warmer temperatures—another reason why this vulnerable fish population is important to preserve.

For more than a century, however, Abrams Creek has been de-watered by irrigation diversions that drastically reduce its flows in late summer and fall. The trout have been hanging on, but they’re seriously pressured. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has called this population the “highest priority” for cutthroat conservation efforts in Western Colorado.

In 2016, Trout Unlimited’s Mely Whiting helped negotiate a deal with the local irrigation company, Buckhorn Valley Metro District, which agreed to pipe their irrigation ditch and thereby reduce leakage by 40 percent, with the water savings going back into the creek to keep the fish healthy.

The biggest hurdle was money. Piping the irrigation ditch along several miles of ditch would cost more than $1 million.

A year later, says Whiting, this fundraising goal has been met, thanks to efforts by TU, Eagle Valley Trout Unlimited, Buckhorn Valley, CPW and the Eagle River Watershed Council, who secured grants from a variety of sources, including the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Colorado River Basin Roundtable, Bureau of Reclamation and the town of Gypsum, as well as donations from BLM, Colorado's Species Conservation Fund and local buisnesses like Fortius Realty, NAI Mountain and Alpine Bank.

“Turns out, a lot of people were ready and willing to step up to protect this jewel of a stream,” says Whiting. Because of these collective efforts, she says, the project is officially a go. Construction is expected to start next year on piping the ditch, and the future of Abrams Creek cutthroats looks bright.

In an age of changing climate and paralyzing partisanship, it’s easy to get discouraged about the prospects for our rivers and streams.

One lesson of Abrams Creek: In a world of less water, there’s hope for preserving the health and quality of our rivers, fish and wildlife if we dig in and work together on solutions.

For more information and to donate to the project, go to TU’s Abrams Creek project page.

Randy Scholfield is Trout Unlimited’s director of communications for the Southwest.