Native Trout

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.

Trucha Grande: Rare Trout, Rare Beer

Our partners with the Rocky Mountain Flyathlon and Running Rivers have unveiled the first beer in their Rare Fish / Rare Beer Project - Trucha Grande - and it is now available in stores in Denver. The program features limited-run craft beers celebrating unique native trout species. They rolled out the new beer in collaboration with Three Barrel Brewing Co., Laws Whiskey House, and the Colorado Malting Company. Trucha Grande is a super rare beer that celebrates the incredible Rio Grande cutthroat trout.

Past Middle Creek flyathletes will be familiar with one of the base beers in this strong ale, the ever popular coconut-y Thurday Special. Three Barrel Brewing Co. blended it with something dark and mysterious, and then locked it away in Laws Whiskey House barrels for a good while. The result is a super smooth, sneaky boozy beer that raises awareness about and a little money for the Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Proceeds from this beer will run through Running Rivers to fund an on-the-ground project improving the world for the rare Trucha Grande.

Want to know where to find it? Trucha Grande will be offered at Biggie Liquors in Conifer, Total Beverage Westminster, Little's Fine Wines Beer & Spirits in Denver, Super Liquor Mart in Littleton, Tipsy's Liquor World in Littleton, Bottles and Bitters at Sloan's Lake in Edgewater, Applejack Wine & Spirits in Wheat Ridge, Bubbles Liquor World in Castle Rock, Peak Beverage in White Ridge, Light Rail Wine and Ale in Golden, and Mile High Wine Cellars in Arvada.

WARNING: Supplies are extremely limited, so get after it! Drink a rare beer to support a rare fish!

Backpacking for Greenbacks

By Dan Omasta (All photos courtesy of Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

It was turning out to be another beautiful July day in Colorado, as over 50 staff and volunteers from Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and various other government agencies and NGOs filed into the big dirt parking lot at the trailhead of Herman Gulch, just off I-70 west of Denver near Silver Plume.

Excitement was palpable, and everyone was ready to strap on their boots to help make a big difference for a small native trout—the greenback cutthroat.

The greenback, once believed to be extinct, is making a comeback in Colorado. Thanks to the efforts of state and federal agencies, NGOs and community volunteers, this threatened species is getting the boost it needs to return to its native range in the South Platte basin. In 2012, genetic scientists at the University of Colorado discovered a handful of the once-prolific trout in a small creek just outside of Colorado Springs. Since then, biologists from CPW, the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife, with boots-on-ground assistance from Trout Unlimited, have been collaborating to rebuild critical population strongholds along the Front Range.

Repopulating Herman Gulch with greenbacks is a big step in that effort.

As the hatchery trucks arrived with their big tanks full of eager (and presumably confused) fish, we all gathered behind the tailgate of a CPW truck and received instructions for transporting and releasing our native cargo. Then we separated into five groups that corresponded to certain distances along the trail: group five, for instance, would be hiking the full 3.5 miles above treeline, while group one would begin releasing fish in a particular stretch only a mile into the trek.

Everyone was excited as we lined up to get outfitted with our fish packs. Each TU volunteer and agency staff person would be carrying 15-20 yearlings (4-7 inches long) up the steep rocky trail into the remote, high-alpine headwaters.

The first mile of the hike was brutal--steep switchbacks made up the bulk of the first two hours of climbing. The whole experience felt like a Tough Mudder race combined with community conservation. The fish only had a few hours of oxygen in the bags, so volunteers slated to reach the highest stretches of stream moved quickly up the rocky, wooded path. Teams of fish packers often leap-frogged one another and received words of encouragement on the steady climb upward: “Almost there,” “It’s just around the corner,” “Sure, that’s what you said an hour ago!”

The hike was full of sweat, laughter and camaraderie as the group worked together to help establish this new population of native fish.

We had received instructions about where to release the fish along the small stream. Once our group reached our ¾ mile reach, we started looking for good habitat to release the fry. Volunteers split off from the group as they followed the sound of riffles and changes in gradient that suggested that on the other side of those willows would be a perfect eddy for these hungry, native trout.

At one bend, I unshouldered the pack and gently opened it along the bank. I set the bag of eager yearlings into the water to help them acclimate to the cold water—a process similar to bringing home that goldfish from the pet shop. About 15 minutes later, the fish were ready. As I poured the precious contents into the stream, the small greenbacks—maybe a dozen of them— swam eagerly out of the bag and into their new home in the clear, deep eddy by the undercut bank.

At first, they clumped together, seemingly unsure about where to go or hide in the cold, clear water. Then, a few of them finned into the current and began rising to the small mayfly hatch coming off the surface. These fish were raised in captivity, but generations of native instinct seemed to kick in almost immediately.

Repopulating a high alpine stream with fish that have never had to survive in such a harsh landscape continues to pose challenges. While these trout have done well in areas such as Zimmerman Lake, they must learn quickly the survival traits necessary to overcome runoff, ice flows and changing food patterns if they are going to stand a chance here. If this introduction is successful and the fish overwinter, Herman Gulch will become one of the first major streams to hold a significant population of pure greenback cutthroats.

This was a major undertaking and could not have been done without the dedication and resources of CPW biologists and hatchery technicians, federal agencies, NGOs and community volunteers. At the end of the day, our group helped to release 960 native greenbacks into Herman Gulch.

For me, the project also provided a shining example of teamwork and collaboration to counter the ongoing bitter partisanship and gridlock that has plagued our nation for years now. There we all were at 10,000 feet—families, retired nurses, young professionals, hunters, anglers, Democrats, Republicans, veterans and CEOs—all strapping on our hiking boots and working together to restore the greenback.

It was a good reminder of what can be accomplished when we work together.

For more information on greenback cutthroat trout recovery efforts, visit www.Coloradotu.org, or contact Dan Omasta, Colorado Trout Unlimited grassroots coordinator, at domasta@tu.org.

Greenback Spawning at Zimmerman Lake - Success!

FORT COLLINS, CO – It was still dark out when I threw the thermos of coffee into the truck and left Denver for the Zimmerman Lake Trailhead just east of Cameron Pass.  The goal for the day was to join two other fellow TU volunteers and work alongside Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) biologists to help with Greenback Cutthroat spawning at the pristine high alpine lake. Since 2013, CPW and Colorado Trout Unlimited have worked together to establish a population of Greenback broodstock up at Zimmerman Lake that can be used to help populate other streams throughout the cutthroat’s native range.  The recent spawning project took place over four days and engaged a handful of CPW staff along with eight CTU volunteers from various Front Range Chapters.

The spawning process was pretty straightforward and designed by CPW staff to expand the genetic pool of Greenback Cutthroat Trout.  The pictures below highlight much of the process that took place over the four days.  A big THANK YOU to all the volunteers who came out to support this important recovery effort!

CPW set up at the Zimmerman Lake inlet to capture spawning Greenbacks.

Fish were collected with a large net and put into a pen to be sorted and categorized by CPW staff and volunteers.

 

Fish were sorted based on their gender and stocking year.

RFID chips in the fish help to identify the stocking year and other critical data.

After the fish were sorted, CPW milked the males and females - making targeted genetic crosses among the various lineages to expand the genetic diversity.  The eggs and sperm were combined in bowls, packed into small coolers, put on ice, and shipped to the local fish hatchery in Leadville, CO for breeding.

This process is a critical step in the long-term recovery of the native Greenback Cutthroat Trout.  CTU is proud of the great work that its volunteers provided during these long days up at the lake.  The work undertaken at Zimmerman will help ensure that future fishermen and women are able to chase these rare fish throughout the Front Range for decades to come.

For more information on the project or to get involved with other upcoming Greenback recovery projects, contact Dan Omasta, CTU Grassroots Coordinator (domasta@tu.org).

CPW staff spawn unique cutthroat trout rescued from Hayden Pass fire

Colorado Parks and Wildlife press release GUNNISON, Colo. – Inside Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Roaring Judy Hatchery, the staff is working to save and breed 158 unique cutthroat trout rescued from Hayden Creek during last year’s devastating Hayden Pass wildfire, southwest of Cañon City.

Throughout June, hatchery technicians have artificially extracted milt and roe – semen and eggs – from the unique cutthroat trout, which were first discovered in Hayden Creek by CPW biologists in 1996. Today they may be the last survivors because no fish were found in an initial survey of the South Prong of Hayden Creek in the aftermath of the wildfire and subsequent flooding.

The fire erupted from a lightning strike last July 8 and roared out of control for weeks, eventually charring 16,754 acres across the Hayden Creek and Big Cottonwood Creek drainages above the Arkansas River near Coaldale.

At the time, CPW staff and U.S. Forest Service (USFS) volunteers made a desperate dash behind the fire lines and captured roughly half of the cutthroats believed to be living in a one-mile stretch of the South Prong.

Of the rescued trout,158 were taken to Roaring Judy and placed in isolation. The other 36 were released in Newlin Creek south of Cañon City with a goal that they would reproduce naturally.

Several hundred fish were left behind in hopes they would survive and the monsoon rains would spare the drainage. Heavy rain events after a fire can inundate streams with debris, ash and sediment making it difficult for fish to survive and reproduce.

Indeed, soon after the fire, fall monsoons ravaged the watershed. Biologists returned to the area with sampling gear and could not find a single fish. They plan to return to the creek this fall in hopes of finding a few hardy survivors .

The Hayden Creek cutthroat are unique and different than the famed pure greenback cutthroat residing in Bear Creek, on the western edge of Colorado Springs. Those trout, which ironically are native to the South Platte River basin, were once thought to be extinct in the 1930s. A study headed up by scientists at CU Boulder in 2012 revealed that the only true greenback cutthroat resided in Bear Creek. That information led to the propagation and eventual reintroduction of those fish into several streams and one lake in the South Platte basin.

The cutthroat trout in Hayden Creek, and now in the hatchery, are unique and contain genes matching museum specimens collected by early explorers. In 1889, ichthyologist David Starr Jordan collected a pair of trout specimens from Twin Lakes, near Leadville. Today those specimens reside at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. The Hayden Creek cutthroat trout are the only known modern fish to share their genetics.

“The coordination that occurred between the USFS staff and CPW to rescue these fish from the wild during an active fire was truly amazing,” said Josh Nehring, CPW senior aquatic biologist. “Furthermore, our staff at Roaring Judy, lead by Seth Firestone, has provided exceptional care to these fish. It is not an easy task to take a wild fish into the hatchery and get them to survive let alone reproduce. Kudos to that team!”

Their spawning efforts began June 12 in the isolation unit located along the East River, north of Gunnison.

Firestone, hatchery manager, said roe was stripped from 10 female cutthroat and mixed with milt from 10 males the first day. Action continued June 19 and the staff is hopeful for more success the week of June 26.

But the rescue is not without risk. The trout are being treated for fungus attributed to male aggression.

“It’s a concern,” Firestone said, describing how the fish are receiving weekly baths in a mild saltwater solution to combat the fungus. “We are doing our best to keep it under control.”

2017 Youth Camp Recap

Over the week of June 11 to June 16, campers from all over the state joined at the Bar N I Ranch in Stonewall, CO for the 2017 Colorado TU River Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp. For the entire week, 15 campers between the ages of 14-18, joined Colorado TU staff, volunteers and camp counselors for a week of camping, learning, and fishing- for some of the kids, it was their first time ever fishing. The kids took part in various activities teaching them all about river conservation, native trout species, Western water issues, and of course, all things fly fishing.

The students arrived on Sunday, June 11 and right away the fun started. After the campers got their tents set up, the camp staff and counselors went over basic information about the camp, rules, and an overview of what to expect. After the orientation, the kids then got a chance to know one another. Finally, they learned about some basic fly fishing techniques including how to tie knots and when to use them and the basics to casting. The first day also covered some of the current river and water issues in Colorado.

Monday was the first full day of camp and after waking up, the kids went to the stream and pond at the ranch to learn about the entomology of the watershed. The kids took bug samples to learn about what the fish would be eating in the area and took water samples to determine the health of the stream and pond. After the sampling, students ate lunch and headed to nearby North Lake to fish for the afternoon. It wasn't long before kids started hooking into fish and in the first day over half of the kids had landed their first fish of the camp and for some, their first fish ever.

On Tuesday, June 13, the campers and camp staff headed to Alamosa to visit the Sand Dunes National Park. While at the Sand Dunes, the campers visited with National Park staff and Trout Unlimited's Kevin Terry to learn about the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout and how climate change is affecting the habitat of this species. During the trip to Alamosa, students also visited the Native Aquatic Species Hatchery, a facility based around the restoration of Colorado’s native species. Here, campers were exposed to the science behind genetics, and were able to see what it takes to bring back a species from endangerment. Tuesday wrapped up with a lesson on western water law and the issues affecting the region's most valuable resource.

Over the first few days the kids had free time to tie flies and practice their fly fishing skills and on Wednesday they had a chance to hone in those skills and use the flies they have tied. The day started off by traveling to North Lake for the morning. While at North Lake kids were catching fish left and right and by halfway through the morning, everyone had caught a fish. After returning to the camp, the kids ate lunch and broke up into teams of three for some additional fishing. One group headed to some beaver ponds, another group fished the stream, and the third group fished a lake on the ranch property.

Thursday, the last full day of the camp, consisted of a lesson from Colorado Parks and Wildlife on aquatic nuisance species and how anglers can do their part to protect our watersheds from these invasive species. Colorado Parks and Wildlife also lead a trout dissection for campers to learn about the biology of trout. Later in the afternoon, the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) brought a soil trailer to demonstrate watershed issues on a smaller scale. The students were able to see how issues of erosion, wildfires, and flooding can affect an entire watershed. After dinner on Thursday the campers watched the 2017 Fly Fishing Film Tour at the local Pinion Valley Lodge.

On the last morning of the camp, the campers helped pick up the fly tying and fishing material and break down their camps. Soon, parents were arriving for the closing ceremony. Campers, staff, and parents had a chance to comment on their experiences with the camp.

When the 15 campers arrived on June 11, there were nervous faces and uneasy feelings about what to expect for the upcoming week. But just a few days later on June 16 the campers had a hard time leaving one another. The friendships formed, the lessons learned, and the memories made will carry on forever and many students mentioned coming back in 2018.

Colorado TU wants to thank the campers, parents, volunteers, chapters, and all of the guests who helped make this camp a great success. The camp could not have been done without your support and we look forward to working with you all next year! CTU also wants to thank the Bar N I Ranch for their hospitality during the course of the week!

We hope to see many new and old faces at the camp in 2018!

 

 

Greenback Recovery Working Group

The greenback cutthroat is one of last three remaining species of cutthroat trout that is native to Colorado. Their populations were decimated during the initial settling of the west, and for a period of time this species was thought to have become extinct. Later, greenback cutthroats were believed to have been rediscovered, but this proved to be case of mistaken identity. Genetic testing later provided evidence that this “old Strain” of greenback cutthroats were in fact Colorado Cutthroats, an entirely different subspecies of cutthroat trout. It wasn’t until later that a small population of true native greenback cutthroat were discovered in Bear Creek near Colorado Springs. Since this discovery there has been a significant effort to capture the genetic pool of these true greenback cutthroats, breed them in controlled environments, and repopulate native waters with these trout. Much of this work is thanks to the Greenback Recovery working group, currently lead by Colorado TU Grassroots Coordinator, Dan Omasta. This working group is a collaborative effort; including organizations such as Trout Unlimited, the Division of Fish and Wildlife, the Forest Service, and front range CTU chapters. This partnership forms a unified front to work as a single point of contact. The Greenback Recovery Working Group has been effective because they are able to provide much needed volunteers, address funding needs, enhance communications, and work on grant writing across chapters as a single entity.

One of the most significant ongoing projects is the reintroduction of native greenback cutthroat trout to Zimmerman Lake. This lake serves as a spawning ground for these cutthroat, where fertilized eggs are then collected and brought to the Leadville hatchery. The resulting fry are then reintroduced to other native streams.

Another substantial project conducted by the Greenback Recovery Working Group in partnership with Western Native Trout Initiative entails installing 30 temperature loggers into local streams. This project will help Colorado Trout Unlimited collect data in order to evaluate streams for reintroduction, monitor progress, and over time measure the impacts of climate change. There are many other ongoing and upcoming projects that the Greenback Recovery Working Group is tirelessly working on in order to successfully reintroduce native greenback cutthroat trout.

Soon under the Endangered Species Act, the Department of Fish and Wildlife will be forced to review the status of greenback cutthroats. Currently greenback cutthroat trout are listed as a threatened species, but if they are downgraded to an Endangered species there could be significant consequences. It would take significantly more time and money to acquire permitting and conduct environmental impact assessments.  Additionally, if this species becomes endangered, it may no longer be targeted by anglers. This may provide disincentives to protecting this native cutthroat species and limit fishing areas across Colorado. This would hinder one of the most substantial trout recovery efforts even undertaken in Colorado, but with proper funding and volunteers the Greenback Recovery Working Group should continue to successfully reintroduce this cutthroat species thought to have been lost.

 

To get involved or volunteer please contact Dan Omasta, DOmasta@tu.org, to learn about various opportunities!

2016 Annual Report

The 2016 Colorado TU Annual Report is now available! This year we broke it down basin-by-basin to show that no matter where you fish, Colorado TU is on-the-ground working to make the watershed healthier, protect the lands and streams, and ensure that the fish habitat is sustainable for future generations.

zimmermanIn the South Platte basin, Colorado TU and chapters worked to engage young, inner city, girls through the great outdoors by introducing them to fly fishing and conservation; CTU worked with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to reintroduce the Colorado state fish, Greenback Cutthroat Trout, to it's native watershed along the Front Range; Trout Unlimited tackled abandoned mine issues, and various chapters worked to repair their homewater streams from the devastating floods of 2013.

The Arkansas River basin is home to Bear Creek where the last wild population of Greenback Cutthroat trout were found. The Annual Report discusses how CTU and the local chapter worked to connect this rare fish with the community. The Arkansas River basin also included the Colorado TU Youth Camp where 15 students ages 14-18 were introduced to the basics of conservation and fly fishing.

The San Juan, Animas, and Dolores basins included work on restoring the trout habitat and cutthroat trout populations into Hermosa Creek, rerouting the San Miguel river through the Telluride Valley Floor, and protecting the southwest rivers and streams from hardrock mining issues.

Colorado RiverIn the Colorado River basin, TU helped secure protections for the Roan Plateau and Thompson Divide from harmful oil and gas development, worked with local ranchers and farmers to improve the health of the Upper Colorado while enhancing agriculture water usage. TU also helped lead the Learning by Doing initiative that, among other things, secured $8 million in funds to protect and restore the Upper Colorado River.

Along the Yampa, Trout Unlimited's Brian Hodge was rewarded the U.S. Forest Service’s Rise to the Future Award for his work restoring miles of streams and trout habitat in the Routt National Forest. The local chapter also worked to engage youth in the basin by connecting them to their local watershed and introducing them to the issues present.

The Gunnison River basin included engaging youth through the Adopt-a-Trout program in Tomichi Creek where students, in collaboration with local agencies, tagged wild trout to study the movements of fish in the creek. TU also worked with local farmers and ranchers to improve agriculture processes and trout habitat in the Gunnison valley.

rio grande cutthroatIn the Rio Grande basin, Trout Unlimited worked to protect the Great Sand Dunes Cutthroat from potential changes in the environment. The Rocky Mountain Flyathlon came to Saguache for the annual race and fishing events that help raise money for Colorado TU's work in protecting native trout and their habitats. The local chapter and Trout Unlimited also worked to repair sections of the Conejos and ensure that winter flows were hospitable for trout.

The work we accomplished last year could not have been done without the generous support of our donors and partners listed on page 23 of the Annual Report. All donations to Colorado TU are leveraged through corporate partnerships, volunteer sweat equity, and matching grants to make your dollars go even further!

There are many more stories in each basin and projects from around the state that you can read in the 2016 Annual Report. You can view the report here or make sure you check it out in the Spring edition of High Country Angler!

TU helps protect Colorado River Gold Medal stretch

Not all of Trout Unlimited's efforts are loud and publicized. In fact, some are quiet and calculated. There are many TU efforts that don’t generate action alerts or require high level discussions with politicians. Recently, TU's work to protect the Gold Medal Water section of the upper Colorado River from 20 oil and gas leases was successful by inserting the voice of sportsmen into the BLM’s oil and gas lease sale process. “The process of commenting on these federal land actions can feel bureaucratic and can be tedious,” said Tyler Baskfield, sportsmen coordinator for Colorado who drafted comments for TU pertaining to the May 2017 Oil and Gas Lease Sale. “But it is critical that we address federal land actions from a sportsmen’s perspective. These leases in Grand County near the Colorado River are a perfect example of what TU staff can accomplish by participating in the process and providing accurate and consistent information to federal agencies.”

The parcels had originally been nominated for the lease sale by the oil and gas industry, but the BLM removed the 20 parcels totaling 27,529 acres in Grand County from the upcoming lease sale citing “concerns raised by Grand County and other stakeholders about offering these parcels at this time,” said acting Deputy State Director for Energy Lands and Minerals, Kent Walter. “We want to be sure they are still appropriate for leasing.”

RMNPTU staff along with Grand County and a number of environmental organizations discouraged the leasing of these parcels that were close to both the Colorado River and Rocky Mountain National Park. These areas also contained cutthroat trout habitat. TU and partners commented on the potential impact to the wildlife resources and recreation in the area to the BLM throughout the NEPA process. The other organizations who commented on these potential leases played a large role in the removal of these parcels, but the sportsmen’s perspective that TU provides seemed to be especially influential in many of these efforts.

“TU’s members should feel great about the impact their contribution has to the places that sportsmen are passionate about,” said Baskfield. “It takes several staff members to participate in just one of these efforts. The staff who work on these comments and follow these processes are incredibly passionate, intelligent, and thorough when it comes to producing the desired outcome for the resource. It isn’t the most visible part of the work that we do, but it is rewarding to work with all of those talented staff members and get a win.”