Herman Gulch greenback reintroduction

Herman Gulch via TheDenverChannel.com

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The biologists have purged this gulch of all other fish competitors.

But the first pure greenback cutthroat trout dropped into chilly streams Monday morning simply quivered at edges of eddies.

These captive-bred 1-year-olds — 960 of them — are thought to be hardier than the 4,000 hatchlings that Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists put in Herman Gulch last year. State crews conducted a survey last week and found no evidence any of the hatchlings survived the hard winter.

A whole lot of people really want the greenback cutthroats to make it in their ancestral home.

So on Monday morning, an expanding cutthroats recovery team coordinated by CPW mobilized, with more than 50 volunteers from Trout Unlimited and other conservation groups hauling 20-pound bags of the 5-inch fish into the high-country basin…

Most understood this is something of an ecological longshot because greenback cutthroats — listed as threatened on the nation’s endangered species roster — have all but disappeared. After all, evolution is all about change, and species come and go.

Greenback cutthroats originated in the South Platte River Basin headwaters. They disappeared as humans settled the region, mining for gold that turned water toxic, stocking streams with nonnative fish in hopes of promoting tourism.

State wildlife managers declared greenback cutthroats extinct in the 1930s. But they rediscovered them in 1953 and celebrated them in 1994 as Colorado’s official state fish. However, the fish that Colorado wildlife officials touted as the state fish was a different species of cutthroat trout.

In 2012, University of Colorado genetics scientists determined that only a few greenback cutthroats survived in the wild, by a fluke, southwest of Colorado Springs, in the Arkansas River Basin. Back in the 1870s, aspiring hotel resort operator Joseph Jones had captured some greenbacks from South Platte headwaters and plopped them into Bear Creek near his property. CU scientists verified that only the descendants of those fish carried the true greenback cutthroat genes.

CPW officials now are working intensely, gathering genetic material from Bear Creek fish and breeding tens of thousands of greenback cutthroats in hatcheries created to stock Colorado streams with trout that compete with native species.

CPW crews already have transplanted some greenback cutthroats successfully into Zimmerman Lake, west of Fort Collins.

“This would be the first steam,” CPW aquatic biologist Boyd Wright said Monday, directing the transplanting operation along 3 miles of streams. “And this is a fish that evolved in streams.”

[…]

If this second attempt at getting greenback cutthroats to survive in Herman Gulch fails, CPW officials said they’ll try once more next year. State crews this year also are planning to drop cutthroats into Dry Gulch, to the west of this site, and into Rock Creek in South Park.

But much depends on how the fish respond in this ideal habitat, a basin considered ecologically healthy.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

South Platte Master Plan — a stream corridor evaluation – is complete

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

The South Platte Master Plan is a study of flood mitigation and recovery possibilities along 130 miles of the South Platte River from the Morgan-Weld county line to the Nebraska State Line. Authorized and funded by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, the plan will suggest ways to make the river more “flood resilient,” both to handle the flooding as it occurs, with minimal damage to property and structures, and to quickly recover from a flood in the aftermath.

Five big problem areas were identified in the evaluation, according to Brian Murphy, project director for CDM Smith of Denver, the contractor on the flood study. They were the amount of sediment the floods of 2013 and 2015 deposited in the study area, basically clogging the river and making flooding worse; uncontrolled water in ditches and canals, which can back up and cause damage to structures, homes, and fields; the railroad railroad right of way southwest of Messex, which contains the river along the northwest shoreline but worsens flooding on the opposite shoreline; the hunting lands along the river that provide game habitat but also blocks water flow during a flood, causing the water to spread out into neighboring cropland; and the washed-out headgates of the Henderson-Smith and Lowline ditches, which essentially turn those ditches into another channel of the river.

Stakeholders attending the meeting may have gotten some ideas of how to tackle those challenges from a 90-minute presentation by Jerry Kenny, executive director of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program. That program comes from an agreement among Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and the U.S. Department of the Interior to preserve habitat for whooping cranes, least terns, piping plovers and pallid sturgeons, four species on the endangered species list. The program maintains water at an adequate level along an 80-mile stretch of the Platte River the Nebraska cities of Lexington and Grand Island in an area call the Big Bend Area.

Kenny’s description of challenges faced in maintaining habitat for those four species brought home to the stakeholders how the river system has been affected by settlement all along its length. For instance, sediment – mostly sand – that once washed downstream past what is now Sterling and settled in the Big Bend area to create habitat for those species no longer makes it that far. Instead, repeated diversion of the river for irrigation reduces and slows down the water flow during what was once rapid spring runoff, depositing the sediment here.

That problem is exacerbated by Lake McConaughy on the North Platte near Ogallala, which traps sediment that once drifted down into Big Bend.

Kenny told the meeting that some of the challenges have been met by practices in all three of the states that have increased stream flow in the Platte River. Most notable in Colorado is the Tamarack Recharge Project near Crook, in which water is pumped into small reservoirs when there is no irrigation demand on the river, and allowed to seep back into the river so more water is available downstream.

Kenny also showed the group slides of off-stream water storage projects that have been used to create wetlands and much-needed sand islands in the project area. Presumably, some of those ideas could be used to mitigate flooding and provide some off-channel water storage in the South Platte basin as well.

After the meeting Morgan County Commissioners Jim Zwetzig and Laura Teague said they are encouraged by the “collaborative effort” shown in the PRRIP agreements…

Project manager Brian Murphy said one of the biggest challenges, once ideas and practices are identified, will be finding the dollars to do it. The PRRIP get about half of its funds from the federal government, and there is tremendous incentive in the form of a mandate to save endanger species. There is no such incentive, other than reducing unpredictable costs of recover, in flood mitigation.

“The big question is, what are the things that can bring dollars to fund this project,” Murphy said. “What are the drivers? There’s been a lot of discussion of duck habitat, open space, trails, and I think it’s going to come down to those things.”

On a more positive note, he said, the PRRIP process has broken new ground when working with the federal permitting process. Some of the techniques that project uses, such as tilling riparian areas to keep vegetation down, are considered agricultural, and so don’t need federal permits.

Monday’s meeting was the third since the plan was introduced to the public in February.

Hermosa Trail to be Impacted by Construction of Fish Barrier

Proposed Hermosa Creek watershed protection area via The Durango Herald

Here’s the release from the San Juan National Forest:

Construction activities will begin in the Hermosa Creek Special Management Area on Monday, July 10, 2017 to erect a fish-migration barrier on Hermosa Creek as part of the ongoing Colorado River Cutthroat Trout Reintroduction Project. Trail users and visitors to the area should expect to encounter delays and closures until October 1, 2017. The barrier is being installed on the main stem of Hermosa Creek downstream of its confluence with the East Fork of Hermosa Creek. About one-half mile of the Hermosa Creek Trail from its northern trailhead must be widened to allow heavy equipment to access the construction site. The trail widening is temporary and will be rehabilitated to the extent possible. Tree removal is expected to be minimal.

Throughout the construction project, trail users traveling in both directions may encounter temporary delays of up to one hour. Short-term closures lasting up to a full day are also possible, especially when heavy equipment is being moved in and out of the area. No more than four days of closures are expected during the three-month project, but construction schedules are subject to changing conditions. Public notices will be posted when trail closures are expected. The project is not expected to affect fishing, because flows will be bypassed above the construction site; however, some sedimentation is expected downstream. The barrier represents the final and most important phase of the Hermosa Creek Colorado River Cutthroat Trout Reintroduction Project, which began almost 30 years ago. The goal is to protect native cutthroat trout above the barrier from non-native fish located downstream.

For more information, please contact the Columbine Ranger District at 970 884-2512 or Clay Kampf at 970-884-1403.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Elkhead Reservoir fish barrier appears to be working as designed

Elkhead Reservoir

From The Craig Daily Press (Lauren Blair):

Installed last September, a net designed to keep non-native, predatory fish at Elkhead Reservoir from entering the Yampa River appears to be fulfilling its purpose, though it may be too soon to tell.

This spring, Colorado Parks and Wildlife conducted its first count of the two species of concern, northern pike and smallmouth bass, in the stretch of water between the net and the spillway, where water leaves the reservoir and enters Elkhead Creek, which feeds into the Yampa.

“In our first sample this spring, we didn’t see any indication that the net was failing,” said CPW Aquatic Biologist Tory Eyre.

The count was taken before the reservoir filled with spring runoff and water began spilling over the spillway. Another count taken this fall, after the reservoir is done spilling, will give biologists an even better idea of how the net is working.

“This is a big spill year,” Eyre said. “When it’s spilling, it can suck trees and other debris through, damaging the net.”

Officials are hoping the net, made of a sturdy polyethylene mesh, will hold up to any debris that gets swept its way, and divers will check and clean the net once a year.

The net is one piece of a multi-pronged approach to protect four species of endangered fish in the Yampa River, the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker…

The net will hopefully keep the predatory fish contained, but with so many factors affecting the species, biologists won’t necessarily be able to determine the precise impact of the net on endangered fish populations…

The life span of the $1.2 million net is only estimated at about seven years, Eyre said, which is why CPW is also hoping to check northern pike and smallmouth bass populations through its new, annual Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic.

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program

Western Governors approve policy resolutions @westgov

Whitefish

From the Western Governors Association:

Western Governors formally approved five policy resolutions on: Workforce Development; Species Conservation and the Endangered Species Act; National Forest and Rangeland Management; Western Agriculture; and State Wildlife Science, Data and Analysis at the Western Governors’ Association 2017 Annual Meeting in Whitefish, Montana.

The five new policy resolutions formally approved include:

  • Workforce Development: To meet current and future workforce development challenges, Western Governors are committed to identifying innovative approaches that connect western citizens in need of career advancement opportunities to western business sectors with employment vacancies to be filled. The Western Governors’ Association is ideally situated to collect and disseminate workforce development information (such as best practices, case studies and policy options) to enhance workforce development in the West. This resolution directs WGA to pursue a workforce development initiative that leverages the region’s best thinking to help bridge the gap between prospective workers and western employers, now and in the future
  • Species Conservation and the Endangered Species Act: Western Governors applaud the principles and intent of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Governors believe that targeted, legislative, regulatory, and funding refinements could improve the operation of the ESA. The Governors also recognize that much can be accomplished by working collaboratively with federal partners and that the ESA can only be reauthorized through legislation developed in a fashion that results in broad bipartisan support and maintains the intent of the ESA to protect and recover imperiled species. This is an amendment to WGA Policy Resolution 2016-08, incorporating year-two Species Conservation and ESA Initiative principles by reference.
  • Pawnee Buttes. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.
    • National Forest and Rangeland Management: Western Governors support sound forest and rangeland management policies that maintain and promote environmental, economic and social balance and sustainability. The Governors support programs intended to reduce wildfire risk and improve forest health and resilience, and believe the federal landscape should be focused on environmentally-sound forest and rangeland management practices that also provide sustainable economic opportunities for local communities. Western Governors encourage collaboration as a tool to achieve community-supported and durable land management outcomes.
    • Western Agriculture: Western Governors support a broad array of funding, education, research, and conservation programs that enable farms, forests, and rangelands to be important contributors to the economies and quality of life in western states. The Governors encourage responsible management of federal lands in the West, given that western states include more than 75 percent of our national forest and rangeland ecosystems. Western Governors encourage integrating these policies into legislative action as Congress considers the 2018 Farm Bill.
    • State Wildlife Science, Data and Analysis: Western Governors direct U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to utilize state wildlife data, analysis and expertise as principal sources in development and analysis of science serving as the legal basis for federal regulatory action to manage species and habitat. The Governors support efforts to provide statutory exceptions to Freedom of Information Act disclosure for state wildlife data and analysis in instances where publication of state data provided to federal agencies would be in violation of existing state statutes.
    Credit: TechCrunch

    CPW begins spawning operations for cutthroat trout lineage rescued from the wildfire ravaged Hayden Creek watershed

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

    CBS Denver:

    The first batch of semen and eggs have been harvested from 158 unique cutthroat trout that now thrive the Roaring Judy Hatchery in Gunnison.

    They lived near Canon City a year ago.

    In July of 2016, The Hayden Pass Fire started from a lightning strike. In days, with the help of strong winds and dry conditions, it evolved into a 26-square-mile event that forced the evacuation of 140 homes…

    Workers from Colorado Parks & Wildlife and the United States Forest Service made what was called “a desperate dash” to Hayden Creek. They waded into the water, temporarily immobilized the fish with a small electric shock, and netted them.

    Nearly 200 fish were caught.

    They may be the last survivors of a specific species of cutthroat first discovered in the late 1800s.

    Ichthyologist David Starr Jordan collected a pair of trout specimens in 1889 from Twin Lakes, near Leadville, according to the CPW. Today, those specimens reside at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.

    In 1996, CPW biologists discovered the Hayden Creek cutthroat contain unique genes matching those of the museum specimens.

    Of the nearly 200 trout rescued from the creek, 36 were sent to Newlin Creek near Canon City in hopes they would reproduce naturally.

    The other 158 were taken to the Roaring Judy Hatchery where, June 12th, spawning operators began.

    Seth 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…