Colorado Parks and Wildlife is installing a fish screen in Rifle Creek

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Here’s the release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has started work on a construction project to install a long-sought fish screen in Rifle Creek and officials say it will be complete and operational by spring of 2013. Fed by Rifle Gap Reservoir, the creek is a tributary to the Colorado River and is located northeast of the city of Rifle.

Partners involved in the project include Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Silt Water Conservancy District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. A majority of the funding for the project came from sportsmen’s dollars, generated from the sale of fishing and hunting licenses.

Once it is functioning under all expected operating conditions, the screen will prevent non-native fish that have escaped from Rifle Gap Reservoir and into Rifle Creek from progressing downstream to the Colorado River where they can be harmful to native fish populations.

“This is a win-win project all the way around; we are protecting native fish populations downstream, while simultaneously having the opportunity to improve a combination, cool-warmwater fishery within Rifle Gap Reservoir,” said Lori Martin, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the northwest region. “We are answering the call of our anglers who are seeking more warmwater fishing opportunities but also keeping in mind the concerns of our partners within the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.”

The Recovery Program is a multi-state and multi-agency effort headed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with a goal to recover four, endangered fish found only in the Upper Colorado River system – the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail chub, and humpback chub.

Brent Uilenberg of the Bureau of Reclamation agreed that the project would help both sport fishing and endangered fish downstream. Uilenberg says that the project will not affect reservoir operations and water supplies.

According to the USFWS, the 100-year floodplain of the Colorado River – downstream from the bridge over Interstate 70, at exit 90 – is critical habitat for the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker.

Current recovery efforts include removing non-native predators from sections of the upper Colorado River system, and preventing escapement from lakes and reservoirs where non-natives are thriving, often with the use of fish screens.

The existing cool-warmwater fishery of smallmouth bass and walleye in Rifle Gap Reservoir has been self-sustaining since the 1960s when the former Colorado Division of Wildlife stocked both species, prior to the inception of the recovery program. Currently, trout are the only fish that can be legally stocked into Rifle Gap Reservoir.

After the fish screen is in place, Colorado Parks and Wildlife managers will begin drafting a new, lake management plan for Rifle Gap Reservoir before submitting it to the USFWS and other Recovery Program partners for final approval.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife gathered initial input for fishery management within Rifle Gap Reservoir, including the installation of the fish screen, during a public meeting held in August 2010. The agency plans additional meetings in the coming months to provide the public with additional opportunities for input as the agency drafts the final lake management plan.

Warmwater fishing has become increasingly popular in western Colorado; however, opportunities are currently limited due to concerns with the threat that some non-native fish species can pose to native fishes.

Despite those concerns, state wildlife officials continue to look for effective ways, including the installation and maintenance of approved fish screens, to satisfy angler’s requests for additional warmwater fishing without compromising native fish recovery efforts.

“Coldwater fisheries in western Colorado are famous world-wide,” said Sherman Hebein, senior aquatic biologist in the northwest region. “But we also have a core of dedicated anglers that appreciate warmwater alternatives and we are working hard to provide them as much opportunity as we are able, given some of the obstacles and limitations we must take into consideration.”

More coverage from Dave Buchanan writing for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

An expanded fishery at Rifle Gap Reservoir got another step closer when Colorado Parks and Wildlife recently began construction of a fish screen in Rifle Creek below the reservoir. The screen, which is expected to be operational by next spring, will prevent non-native fish that may escape the reservoir from going down Rifle Creek to the Colorado River where the non-native fishes might harm native fishes.
It’s all part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery program and the only way the state legally could stock and manage non-native warmwater fish in Rifle Gap. “This is a win-win project all the way around,” said Lori Martin, aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We are protecting native fish populations downstream, while simultaneously having the opportunity to improve a combination, cool-warmwater fishery within Rifle Gap Reservoir.”

Martin said the agency is responding to anglers seeking more diversity while also adhering to the tenets of the endangered fish recovery program. Partners involved in the screen project include Parks and Wildlife, the Silt Water Conservancy District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

A majority of the funding for the project came from funds generated from the sale of fishing and hunting licenses. Total dollar amounts were not available this week from Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The existing smallmouth bass and walleye fishery in Rifle Gap Reservoir has been self-sustaining since the 1960s when the then-Division of Wildlife stocked both species, prior to the inception of the recovery program. However, the recovery program mandates only trout can be legally stocked into Rifle Gap Reservoir. After the fish screen is in place, and a new lake management plan has been approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service and other recovery program partners, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will be able to stock and actively manage such fish as smallmouth bass and walleye.

The recovery program is a multi-state, multi-agency effort headed by the Fish and Wildlife Service with the goal of recovering four endangered fish found only in the Upper Colorado River system ​— the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, bonytail chub, and humpback chub. Current recovery efforts include removing non-native predators from sections of the upper Colorado River system, including stretches of river in and around Grand Junction where state and federal crews have been working for several years. The recovery program also includes building ponds for raising native fish, such as those recently finished along the Colorado River south of Fruita.

More endangered/threatened species coverage here.

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