Larimer County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife coordinate Greenback cutthroat trout release

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

Specialists with the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources and Colorado Parks and Wildlife carried 269 greenback cutthroat trout in backpacks — protected in small plastic bags filled with water — about 2.5 miles to a section of Sand Creek.

There, they placed the fish in the waters and let them swim free — an effort to reintroduce Colorado’s state fish into its native region, the Platte River Basin, and to study whether they will thrive in a unique stream versus non-native brook trout…

The greenbacks made their way onto the endangered species list until, several decades ago, researchers discovered what they thought were a population of this species. Efforts to revive and reintroduce the species led to the fish being downgraded to a threatened species by 1978.

But genetics, which have improved in the past 15 years, proved experts wrong. These fish were not genetically pure greenback cutthroat trout.

A colony of fish in Bear Creek near Colorado Springs, however, was discovered within the past five years and is believed to be the only one left in the state.

Genetic testing by researchers from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, University of Colorado and Colorado State University compared these fish to samples that were collected in the 1860s and preserved at the Smithsonian Institution and Harvard Museum and proved that they were in fact, pure greenback cutthroat trout, Kehmeier explained.

Fish biologists have since been conserving and growing the population of this fish to put them back into their native habitat.

Populations have been introduced into Zimmerman Lake on top of Cameron Pass and Rock Creek in South Park and now into Sand Creek on Larimer County’s Red Mountain Open Space. This fall, more will go into Sand Creek, a small 3-mile stretch that is sustained by spring inputs and rainfall, as well as into Herman Gulch in Clear Creek.

Larimer County had hoped to reintroduce the greenback cutthroat trout into Sand Creek and included that as a goal in its plan for the open space.

And recently, the timing was right because there were extra fish available at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife hatchery near Salida.

So, together, the county and state agencies put fish into the middle third of Sand Creek.

But first, they delivered an electrical shock to the one-mile middle section of the stream and removed all the nonnative brook trout to create a setting in which to study the fish. (The 875 trout they removed were donated to the Rocky Mountain Raptor Center for lunches and dinners.)

The first release, on July 21, involved putting yearlings that were about 5 inches long into one section of the water.

The second release, in September, will put fish into a section of the river in which brook trout still exist as well as the stretch that was recently stocked. These 1,000 fish will be 1-month old.

Then, biologists will study the population for years to come and see how the greenback cutthroat trout survive. And in about three years, time will reveal whether the fish not only survive but also are able to reproduce and thrive.

The latest “Water Matters” newsletter is hot off the presses from the #Colorado Water Trust

On July 7th, we closed our headgate that takes water from the Little Cimarron for irrigation. The water in the above photo will now bypass our headgate and return to the river. Photo via the Colorado Water Trust.
On July 7th, we closed our headgate that takes water from the Little Cimarron for irrigation. The water in the above photo will now bypass our headgate and return to the river. Photo via the Colorado Water Trust.

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

The Little Cimarron and McKinley Ditch

Exciting news from the Gunnison Basin this month! A few weeks ago, the Water Trust implemented a unique project aimed at exploring the effectiveness of water conservation tools and voluntary measures to protect Colorado River Compact entitlements.

You may recall that in 2014, the Colorado Water Trust purchased a portion (5.8 cfs) of the McKinley Ditch to restore late summer flows to the Little Cimarron, while keeping agricultural land in production. Earlier this year, the Water Trust received approval from the Upper Colorado River Commission for a Pilot Program project for our water.

Under the project, McKinley Ditch water was used to irrigate approximately 195 acres of pasture grass from April through July 6th. We’re pleased to report that the pilot project was implemented as planned, and on July 7th, we ceased irrigation for the rest of the season. Water is now being returned to the river for the remainder of the irrigation season.

Water conserved by this pilot project will help improve habitat conditions, and ultimately will benefit both the Little Cimarron and Colorado Rivers. We are excited to be a part of this Pilot Program and are hopeful the study results will lead to a more secure future for Colorado’s rivers.

New measures could reduce Glen Canyon Dam’s impact on the Grand Canyon — a bit — The High Country News

Before and after photos of results of the high flow experiment in 2008 via USGS
Before and after photos of results of the high flow experiment in 2008 via USGS

Here’s a report from Cally Carswell writing for The High Country News. Click through and read the whole article, here’s an excerpt:

If the San Juan River were a freeway, Glen Canyon Dam would be a 50-car pile-up. It forces the river to back up and spread out for dozens of miles. As the river morphs into Lake Powell, the sand in its current settles out. A rock overhang at Grand Gulch where boaters once lounged is now buried more than 30 feet deep.

Before the dam killed the current, the San Juan carried all of this silt to the Colorado, which spit much of it through the Grand Canyon, replenishing hundreds of sandbars. These expansive blonde beaches, which form in eddies, are river runners’ favorite campsites, and they provide backwater habitat for fish. But today, about 95 percent of the sediment that once washed through the canyon sits at the bottom of Lake Powell, and the sandbars have shrunk: The Colorado erodes them, but doesn’t build them back up.

This is one of the problems the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act was supposed to correct. It directed federal officials to figure out how to manage the dam in a way that did less harm and even protected the national park’s assets. In addition to threatened sandbars, three of eight fish species native to the Grand Canyon have disappeared since the dam went up, and two are endangered.

But can altering dam operations really help the river when the dam itself imperils it? Scientists have explored this question since 1992, and their research informs the Bureau of Reclamation’s draft management plan for the dam’s next 20 years, released earlier this year. Conservationists are optimistic that it will yield improvements downstream, but only small ones. “You’re really just trying to make the best of a bad deal,” says Utah State University watershed sciences professor Jack Schmidt…

But there might be other ways to help fish, Kennedy says. Chub spawn almost exclusively in the toasty Little Colorado, then move into nearby parts of the mainstem Colorado, where their growth is inhibited by chilly water. The water does warm as the river twists further from the dam, but though it should be good habitat, few chub live in these downstream reaches.

Scientists think that could be because there aren’t enough bugs to eat there. Aquatic insects lay their eggs at river’s edge, and when the water level drops, as it does daily when water releases fluctuate with hydropower demand, the stranded eggs shrivel and die.

The plan proposes to eliminate flow fluctuations on spring and summer weekends, when electricity demand isn’t quite as high, in hopes of keeping eggs wet and boosting insect numbers. More food might help chub populations colonize and prosper in the river’s lower reaches.

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

In #Colorado we go the extra mile to save cutthroats #HaydenCreekFire

Aerial photograph of Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery. Photo via Western State Colorado University.
Aerial photograph of Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery. Photo via Western State Colorado University.

From The Denver Post (Jesse Paul):

Some 200 of the unique cutthroat trout were removed from Hayden Creek

State wildlife officers on Wednesday rescued rare cutthroat trout from a creek in the Hayden Pass fire burn area, quelling concerns about their possible extinction because of the blaze.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife says many of the rare fish — with genetic links to the iconic, pure greenback cutthroat trout — were taken from the fire zone to an isolation chamber at the Roaring Judy Hatchery near Gunnison.

Officials were worried ash and sediment from the Hayden Pass fire would wash down into the lower prong of Hayden Creek, where the fish live, strangling their oxygen and food supplies. However, videos taken from the rescue mission show wildlife officers removing several of the trout from the stream.

The trout that live in the creek share a unique genetic anomaly with a cutthroat found in the Smithsonian Museum and said to have been taken from Twin Lakes near Leadville in 1889, CPW says.

Fire commanders say the trout mission on Wednesday resulted in the netting and removal of 200 fish. One of the firefight’s main objectives has been to protect the fish as much as possible.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

How Hydroelectric Power Kills Insects, and Why That Matters — Pacific Standard

A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam -- Photo USBR
A high desert thunderstorm lights up the sky behind Glen Canyon Dam — Photo USBR

From Pacific Standard (Nathan Collins):

…United States Geological Service biologist Theodore Kennedy and his colleagues point out, the danger to ecosystems could go beyond an immediate threat to fish populations. In particular, no one’s really looked at the consequences of hydropeaking, in which dam operators release more water through the dam during the day to produce more electricity when it’s most in demand. Like the underlying electricity demand, the hour-to-hour changes in river flow are enormous. In some places, river flows change by as much as a factor of 10 over the course of the day, leading to a cycle of drying and re-wetting along the shore of a river. That creates intertidal zones more akin to what you’d see at an ocean beach than a typical river.

The dry phases, Kennedy and his team point out, could be very bad for mayflies, caddisflies, and other insect species that birds and fish rely on for food—in particular, it could be very bad for their eggs. To test that idea, the researchers first collected mayfly and caddisfly eggs from Utah’s Green River, downstream of the Flaming Gorge Dam, and tested them under hydropeaking-like cycles of wet and dry. Very few survived.

To see how much impact hydropeaking had in the real world, however, the researchers turned to citizen scientists—specifically, river rafters on the Colorado River downstream from the Glen Canyon Dam. Each night, rafters collected insects at various points along the river. Combining that data with a model of hydropeaking’s effect on river flow at those points, the team was able to estimate the effects hydropeaking had on insects.

The results: While different species responded to hydropeaking differently, insects that lay their eggs right at the river’s edge, such as mayflies, had all but vanished from the Colorado River. Midges, which lay their eggs in somewhat broader areas, were most abundant at places where hydropeaking had the smallest effect on water levels. A follow-up study of 16 rivers in the Western U.S. confirmed that hydropeaking had a strong negative impact on insect biodiversity.

Whether or not you care about insects themselves—and many people don’t—the authors point out that healthy insect populations are essential for species that we do care about. “For instance, recent food-web and bioenergetics studies demonstrate that in the popular Lees Ferry sport fishery downstream of the Glen Canyon Dam, the maximum size and growth of rainbow trout are limited by the abundance and overall small size of their invertebrate prey,” Kennedy and his team write.

The lack of insect biodiversity also makes for unstable fish populations—an issue that fisheries managers need to take into account.

#ColoradoRiver: CPW hopes public can understand its efforts at Elkhead Reservoir — Craig Daily Press #COriver

Elkhead Reservoir
Elkhead Reservoir

From The Craig Daily Press (Patrick Kelly):

The tournament is hosted by CPW, and it is offering over $6,000 in prizes, but the effort is part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery program.

To prevent further federal involvement, the recovery program was formed in 1988 to provide endangered species act compliance and keep water development projects closer to the local level.

Three states — Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — along with a multitude of federal agencies and private organizations formed the recovery program to help improve fish populations of the endangered humpback chub, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and ponytail.

The program’s actions are dictated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but it still provides an important buffer between state and federal government.

If the program fails and is dissolved, an individual who draws water from the Yampa River would have to justify their use and provide evidence that their use does not impact endangered fishes — a task the recovery program currently completes.

Sherman Hebein, CPW’s senior aquatic biologist for the northwest region, said his organization is hosting the tournament at Elkhead and offering serious prizes because it is important to engage the public in the effort to control non-natives.

Elkhead Reservoir is home to nonnative northern pike and smallmouth bass, making it a popular fishery for anglers from across Colorado.

But the same nonnatives that attract anglers to the reservoir eat the four fish the recovery program is trying to save.

“The objective of this tournament is to suppress these fish, smallmouth bass and northern pike, to reduce the impact of those fish on the Yampa River,” Hebein said.

Hebein said protecting these fish easily approaches philosophical debate but genetic diversity is an important thing to protect.

“A lot of people ask what’s so important about these four fish species… don’t they live somewhere else?” he said. “These fish don’t live anywhere else… These fish are the true natives of the Colorado River Basin… If we don’t recover them here, they won’t be anywhere else.”

Until humans have a better understanding of DNA and what makes us tick, it is crucial to preserve all iterations of life, Hebein said.

“Until we can figure that out, we really need to conserve the DNA of all these living organisms because we don’t know how to make it,” he said.

But some are still opposed to a tournament that would potentially reduce the fishery in Elkhead Reservoir.

Steve Smith, Craig local and longtime Elkhead angler, had a sign posted in protest of the tournament at the turn off to the launch ramp.

“This is one of the closest lakes that we can fish,” he said. “It’s been holding it’s own for crappie or pike or bluegill but now they want to eliminate or lower the number of smallmouth or pike.”

Despite their differences, Smith and CPW officials were able to interact with respect. Smith understands that CPW has objectives to complete and CPW officials understand Smith’s passion for his hometown fishery.

Hebein said CPW is not out to kill the fishery, like many locals believe.

“We’re here to turn this lake into a far better fishery but to do that we have to suppress the numbers of big predators,” he said.

Hebein and CPW spokesman Mike Porras both said that without their efforts, Endangered Species Act compliance would be out the window and federal intrusion into local affairs would be even greater.

“Every water user would be compelled to deal with a Section 7 consultation with the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) on how their use of water would not impact the endangered fish,” he said. “That’s a lot of work and a lot of paperwork and that’s the reason behind why the recovery program has been such a valuable thing.”

Out of all the anglers interviewed by the Craig Daily Press on Saturday, only one was from Craig, and a gentleman from the Denver area joined him

The rest of the fishermen were from Grand Junction, Eagle or Rifle.

The tournament ends on June 19 with daily prizes for smallest, biggest and most fish caught. Catching a fish with a tag enters anglers into a raffle for big prizes, with the top prize being a new boat.

“The sooner that we can recover the endangered fish, the sooner we can have some more freedom,” said Hebein. “I’d like to encourage everyone to think about the recovery program and the value it has presented in everyone’s lives. How can we get together, recover the fish and move on from there?”

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

#ColoradoRiver: Elkhead Reservoir, non-native predatory fish, endangered fish, sport-fishing #COriver

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

From The Craig Daily Press (Patrick Kelly):

…the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program’s latest high-priority objective — reducing or eliminating nonnative predators from Elkhead Reservoir — has local fisherman in an uproar.

Elkhead Reservoir, which averages 130,000 people visiting during recreation days per year, is home to nonnative northern pike and smallmouth bass, making it a popular fishery for anglers from across Colorado.

But the same nonnatives that attract anglers to the reservoir are a threat to the four fish the recovery program is trying to save — the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker…

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recover Program Director Tom Chart said right now, the program’s biggest obstacle is managing nonnative fish, which prey on endangered fish and prevent populations from thriving.

“The greatest threat that we are dealing with right now is these nonnative, predatory fish,” he said.

Chart said that after ramping up attempts to control nonnatives living in the river, it has been become increasingly clear that source populations must be dealt with.

Elkhead Reservoir
Elkhead Reservoir

“Elkhead, unfortunately, I understand is a prime fishing location for some of the locals out there, but the amount of escapement of smallmouth bass and northern pike (into the Yampa River) is just intolerable,” he said.

Longtime fisher and Craig resident Burt Clements said he understands that under federal law the fish need to be recovered, but he doesn’t think Elkhead is the problem and rather than eradicating nonnatives, other approaches should be the priority.

“Until they start a real stocking program in the upper Yampa with adult pike minnow, they probably will not recover them in the Yampa River,” he said.

In 2015, the program spent about $1 million on recovery projects in the Yampa River, according to recovery program deputy director Angela Kantola. Efforts did include shocking nonnative fish in the Yampa.

“That total certainly exceeds $1 million when support activities (outreach and program management) for Yampa Basin projects are included,” Kantola wrote in an email.

To address the root of the nonnative problem — Elkhead Reservoir — the recovery program is installing a net on the reservoir to help prevent spillage of predatory nonnatives into the Yampa where the endangered fish live and thrive.

The cost of installation, which is scheduled for this fall, is estimated at $1.2 million. The Colorado Water Conservation Board is contributing $500,000 and the rest of the funding comes from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on behalf of the recovery program.

The program also is recruiting civilians for assistance.

A nine-day fishing tournament offering prizes totaling about $6,000 is scheduled to recruit anglers for the purpose of purging the lake of pike and smallmouth.

The tournament begins Saturday and ends June 19. The boat ramp will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. but anglers are welcome to stay on the reservoir overnight. If a participant catches a tagged fish, they are entered in a drawing for the top prizes, including a brand-new boat.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Senior Aquatic Biologist Sherman Hebein said the initial plan was to lower water levels in the lake and poison the fish population with rotenone. However, that approach turned out to be unpopular and unfeasible.

“What we decided was to actually get the public to assist us with our efforts through a tournament,” he said. “I’m prepared to give away prizes, significant prizes, to get the public involved in this project.”

Despite the hefty prizes, local fishermen are boycotting the tournament.

Craig resident Steve Smith said he has been fishing Elkhead Reservoir since it was opened and he can’t support a “kill tournament.”

“It’s like the WildEarth Guardians and the coal mines,” he said. “This is us going against the government.”

Smith said reducing the fishery at Elkhead would have a negative economic impact on Craig.

“Craig will lose some revenue because fisherman won’t come from all over,” he said. “The lake, as it was for the last few years, has been a destiny lake where people come to fish.”

Allen Hischke, another Craig local, expressed concerns about what he sees as intrusive and unnecessary and government involvement. His thoughts are that Elkhead should be left alone.

The recovery program’s nonnative fish coordinator Kevin McAbee said providing Section 7 compliance is where most of the general population should recognize the importance of the program.

“The success of our program is the Endangered Species Act compliance mechanism for all of these water development projects,” said McAbee. “If we didn’t work together to recover these fish then every time that water development wanted to take place anywhere in the Colorado River Basin, it was going to be a fairly contentious endangered species act consultation,”

Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid said he supports the local fishermen and hopes for a reasonable compromise ensuring a successful recovery and the preservation of Elkhead’s fishery.