Conservation

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.

Voluntary fishing closures across the state

Headwaters of the Roaring Fork River.  Wikimedia Commons

Headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. Wikimedia Commons

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has issued voluntary fishing closures across Colorado. This is in response to the low flows and high temperatures many of our rivers have been experiencing. When stressful conditions like these are present, trout are more likely to not survive after catch-and-release, even if done properly. 

If you have not yet seen the warnings about fishing when the water temperatures are above 65 degrees, check out our Trout Thermometer to know when it's time to give the fish a break. 

CPW will not legally enforce the voluntary closures, but simply ask anglers to plan on going earlier in the day or try other locations.

Voluntary Closures after 12pm

Voluntary Closures Between 2 p.m. and Midnight

Read the full voluntary fishing closures in Northwest Colorado press releas

Full-time Voluntary Closures

Closures NO LONGER in Effect

  • A mandatory fishing closure in place at the tailwater of the Yampa River has been rescinded (see 7/19/18 news release).

CPW regularly updates their fishing conditions online here. So be sure to check before you head out on your fishing excursion. 

Still need more information? Contact your local CPW office. 

 

Colorado Senators support public lands in bipartisan letter to US Senate

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The Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) supports public land access and recreation across the US, including Colorado. Over the past 50 years, Colorado has received $239 million dollars that go to a variety of projects such as: 

  • developing community parks and trails
  • preserving cultural heritage sites
  • conserving family ranches and working timberlands through conservation easements and the forest legacy program
  • preserving iconic landscapes
  • and securing boating and angling access along rivers
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Currently, the funding for this program is set to expire on September 30, 2018. Right now a bi-partisan group of US Senators is working to permanently reauthorize the LWCF and secure its funding. This week, U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Richard Burr (R-NC) collected signatures from their colleagues who also support investing in our public lands. We want to give a special thanks to Colorado's very own, Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) who have signed on to show their  support. Colorado is one of the highest states to support this program (77%) because so much of our economy depends on outdoor recreation and public land access. If you are interested in learning more, check out the links below:

Letter of Support for the Land and Water Conservation Fund

Press Release from the Office of Senator Cantwell

See how Colorado has benefitted from the LWCF success stories, in the report here: Colorado's Great Outdoors - The Land and Water Conservation Fund in Colorado 

Doom and Gloom, but what can I do?

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Drought is plaguing most of Colorado and pretty much everywhere in the southwest. Every summer, it feels like we are saying the same thing and warning everyone about not enough snowpack melt, low flows and warming waters. Whether you are a native, transplant, or visitor to this great state - we can all do something to make a difference in conserving our scarce water sources. 

Most of these ideas are easy to do, while some take practice. Even just adopting one strategy to conserve water, can make a difference. Feel free to leave a comment about your ideas as well!

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1. When brushing your teeth or shaving try not to the let faucet run. Need water? Fill up the sink instead to rinse your razor and turn off the faucet between brushing.

2. Most dishwashers do not require any pre-rinsing, especially if they are relatively new. Instead, scrape off any food (preferably into compost) then run the cycle when the dishwasher is full. Some dishwashers even have a "water saver" cycle you can try.

3. Are you still rinsing your produce under the faucet? Try filling a bowl or tub to rinse them in and reuse the water on your houseplants or garden outside. 

4. Try using a broom to clean off sidewalks, driveways, patios, or decks instead of the hose.

5. Tired of mowing the lawn? Check out xeriscaping alternatives to replace or reduce the amount of grass in your yard. If you do need to mow, keep the trim length minimal to reduce evaporation and increase soil moisture retention which will reduce your need to water it. Having longer grass will help it grow a stronger root system and increase it's drought and pest tolerance.

6. Are you still trout fishing when the water is climbing above 65 degrees? Giving fish a break can increase their chances of surviving during this stressful time. Check out our handy water temperature thermometer for trout.

There are plenty of ways to conserve water in the west and with the rise of energy and resource saving standards in our appliances and home systems, it's becoming easier and easier to use less water without even thinking about it. If you are interested in learning more about the innovative ideas out there regarding water conservation, check out the links below. Colorado's rivers and the trout that live in them will thank you!

Resources & Other Water Saving Tips

Water Conservation in the Home

Rain Barrels in Colorado 

What is greywater? How is it used?

Greywater Opt-in Colorado Legislation

Water Conservation across Colorado

Xeriscaping in Colorado: Budgeting, Design, How to

Free Xeriscaping Plans & Plant Suggestions

 

5 tips for fishing the drought

Water temperatures are important to monitor when fishing in the summer. Trout are a coldwater species and therefore respond negatively to warming waters. Need more information about fishing, stream flows. rigging, and locations? Check out our  "Go Fish" page . 

Water temperatures are important to monitor when fishing in the summer. Trout are a coldwater species and therefore respond negatively to warming waters. Need more information about fishing, stream flows. rigging, and locations? Check out our "Go Fish" page

This winter was certainly a tough one for Colorado. Whether you fish small creeks in the high country, irrigate your crops on the Western Slope, or water your lawn in central Denver, we will all be feeling the impacts of the low-water year. According to the latest SNOWTEL analysis offered by the NRCS National Water and Climate Center the percentage of snow-water equivalent (SWE) in Colorado currently ranges from 5% to 44% of normal. While it is true that hydrologic conditions can differ from drainage to drainage – with some areas seeing minimal impact from the low snow totals – overall,

Colorado will see less water in the creeks and rivers this year. Anglers, irrigators, ranchers, municipalities, and recreationalists will all feel the pain this summer, but we are not the only ones. Low flows and hotter days can have serious impacts on fish. With less water and warmer temperatures, the dissolved oxygen content within a stream reach can fluctuate significantly – meaning less holding capacity for fish and bugs. These tough conditions can also affect spawning, migration, and recovery (for example, after being released off the hook).

As anglers, we wait all winter to chase trout during the warmer seasons, but how can we pursue that goal and not over-stress our fisheries? We reached out to our fly shop partners around Colorado and posed that very question:

The fish and wildlife will continue to adapt to these changing conditions, but we can certainly do our part to help them adjust. Take this year as an opportunity to explore new watersheds, improve your handling practices, and better understand your local streams. If you have questions about when and where to fish, you can always ask your local fly shop. 

CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION

 


About the Author

Dan Omasta is the Grassroots Coordinator for Colorado Trout Unlimited, overseeing 24 chapters across the state. 

What's in a drought? That which we call a drought.

Rafters enjoy floating down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Boating down the Colorado River below Havasu Creek in Grand Canyon National Park. NPS photo by Mark Lellouch.

Rafters enjoy floating down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. Boating down the Colorado River below Havasu Creek in Grand Canyon National Park. NPS photo by Mark Lellouch.

A report published by the Colorado River Research Group takes a look at the word "drought" and why it might be time to retire its usage based on the data seen from the Colorado River Basin.

Drought: a period of dryness especially when prolonged; specifically : one that causes extensive damage to crops or prevents their successful growth
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Water is a hot commodity for ranchers across Colorado.  A sign advertising a water sale sits on a farm outside Del Norte, Colorado. Luke Runyon / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

Water is a hot commodity for ranchers across Colorado.

A sign advertising a water sale sits on a farm outside Del Norte, Colorado. Luke Runyon / HARVEST PUBLIC MEDIA

According to that definition, a drought refers to a period of time which would mean there is a beginning and a foreseeable end. What we are noticing in Colorado is a drought that seems to have no end. That's why scientists from Arizona, Utah, California, Colorado, and Michigan are starting to label the changes we have seen in the Colorado River Basin as aridification. It's true that the word does not share the same one-syllable punch that drought delivers, but the research groups says that it better defines what is happening to the area.

aridification: the gradual change of a region from a wetter to a drier climate, often measured as the reduction of average soil moisture content
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary
A riverbed dried up along the Rio Grande.

A riverbed dried up along the Rio Grande.

What this study suggests is that the years upon years of weather patterns we have seen in Colorado are pointing to a larger trend that is simply more than just a temporary drought or warming. If you are interested in learning more, you can read the full report with the link below. As always, what do you think? Is it time to start calling a spade a spade?

Other topics addressed in the report include: 

  • Measuring the likelihood of future megadroughts in terms of low soil moisture
  • What studies say about the "dust on snow" phenomenon
  • What are two possible new normals based on climate models, trends, and Colorado population demand and growth

Read the Full Report here: 

When is Drought Not a Drought?  Drought, Aridification, and the "New Normal" (March 2018) 

P.S. Did you catch the Shakespeare reference?

Thompson Divide protections preserved in settlement

The BLM announced some good news for Colorado’s native cutthroat trout and big game populations on June 22 after reaching a settlement in the lawsuit filed by oil and gas company SG Interests over the cancellation of 18 leases to drill in the Thompson Divide area of the White River National Forest near Carbondale, Colorado. The leases covered more than 21,000 acres (about 33 square miles) featuring prime big game habitat and native cutthroat trout streams in watersheds providing source water to the Crystal and Roaring Fork Rivers, as well as local communities.

Thompson Creek in the Thompson Divide.  Photo: Josh Duplechian

Thompson Creek in the Thompson Divide.  Photo: Josh Duplechian

Leases to drill in the Thompson Divide were improperly issued by BLM in 2003. A coalition of county and local governments, ranchers, local businesses, sportsmen and citizen groups – including Trout Unlimited – mobilized and worked for years to protect the Thompson Divide. BLM ultimately recognized that the leases had been issued in violation of the law and cancelled them in 2016. 

In early 2017, SG Interests filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court to challenge BLM’s decision. Under the settlement, SG agrees to dismiss its case in exchange for a payment of $1.5 million from the federal government. The settlement compensates SG for investments made toward developing the leases but leaves the 2016 lease cancellations in effect.

“SG’s leases were issued in violation of the law, and these lands never should have been leased in the first place,” said Michael Freeman, a staff attorney at Earthjustice representing Wilderness Workshop and Colorado Trout Unlimited.  “BLM properly cancelled the leases in 2016. We’re glad to see that SG is dropping its challenge to those cancellations.”

The Thompson Divide area stretches across Pitkin, Garfield and Gunnison Counties and encompasses no fewer than nine National Forest roadless areas. The area includes habitat for deer, elk and a variety of sensitive wildlife species, including cold water streams vital to native cutthroat trout. Because it supports recreation, ranching and other local industries, the Thompson Divide produces an estimated 300 jobs and pumps more than $30 million into the local economy.

“From its prime big game habitat to unique native cutthroat trout fisheries, the Thompson Divide is a Colorado treasure for hunters and anglers,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “For years, sportsmen and women have fought to protect these lands — so we’re pleased that BLM and SG have reached an agreement that will keep them intact.”

While the settlement is an important step toward protecting the region, it does not end the threat posed by oil and gas development. Sen. Michael Bennet introduced legislation last year (S.481 - Thompson Divide Withdrawal and Protection Act of 2017) to permanently protect the Thompson Divide. With the specter of SG's 2003 leases and lawsuit no longer hanging over the area, Colorado TU hopes that his bill can gain momentum so that this treasured landscape can receive the lasting protection it deserves.

 2013 JUL 31: The Thompson Divide west of Carbondale, CO.

VIDEO: Reintroduction of Native Greenback Trout in Estes Park, CO

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Join Alpine Anglers Trout Unlimited Chapter as they head out to the Big Thompson for a day of fishing. Learn about the important work going on in the area in regards to habitat restoration to help with the reintroduction of native Greenback Cutthroat Trout. Check out the great video below and learn more about what the chapter is doing here.

Learn about fishing the Big Thompson and other waters surrounding Estes Park, Colorado, along with the reintroduction of the Greenback Cutthroat Trout.

Stream Monitoring: What's New?

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A note from National TU Staffer, Kurt Fesenmyer: 

"One great way to take the pulse of your local river is by monitoring stream temperatures. Inexpensive data loggers offer the opportunity to record water temperatures every hour for several years, providing easy access to important information on seasonal patterns, short-term trends, and the impacts of restoration projects or other activities in a watershed.

TU’s Science Team has spent the past few months test driving a new data logger for monitoring stream temperatures. We’re happy to report that the new loggers work very well and should make monitoring your local stream even easier. The new loggers — the Onset TidbiT MX series — are the latest iteration of the reliable Tidbit product line. We are recommending the Tidbit MX2203, which cost just over $100 each.

The new model includes several features that will prove very useful for long-term stream temperature monitoring—they have a four-year battery life under normal conditions and a replaceable battery; they can be launched and their data downloaded using a Bluetooth connection and the free Onset HOBOmobile app; and they have a ‘water detect’ feature that can be used for monitoring stream drying and patterns of intermittency. For more information about the loggers, including basic instructions on calibrating, setting up, and launching loggers, as well as details on how to receive a discount Onset is kindly offering TU volunteers, check out the newly updated Version 3 of TU’s Stream Temperature Monitoring handbook.

The handbook contains some basic guidance on "Why," "Where," and "When" to monitor and is a great starting place for chapters thinking about stream temperature monitoring. Additional resources are available on TU’s stream temperature monitoring resources webpage."

If you are interesting in citizen science opportunities in Colorado. Contact Grassroots Coordinator Dan Omasta, DOmasta@tu.org 

60 trout released by Lyons Elementary students

Fifth grade students from Lyons Elementary School released around 60 fry back into the wild in collaboration with the St. Vrain Anglers TU Chapter, Colorado Trout Unlimited, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The release was part of their ongoing  Trout in the Classroom (TIC) Program where students are engaged in trout biology and environmental sciences. Students raised trout from egg to fry - monitoring their growth, tank environment, and life cycle. Along with raising adorable trout, students gain an appreciation for water resources, conservation ethics, and become involved in their local watershed!