Steps underway to curb elusiveness of local cutthroat trout |

Steps underway to curb elusiveness of local cutthroat trout

Officials from the U.S. Forest Service spoke Friday evening at Winter Park Pub about the future recovery efforts for cutthroat trout in Grand County.
Lance Maggart /

Anglers in Colorado have plenty of choices when it comes to potential prey, but one fish in particular is elusive even to the most committed of casters: the cutthroat trout. Though that could change in the future if efforts of various federal, state and local entities prove fruitful.

Officials from the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Trout Unlimited and various water diversion and distribution entities are currently making plans to initiate a series of cutthroat trout recovery projects in Colorado. The first of those projects could begin as early as next summer.

The U.S. Forest Service is planning a series of four separate cutthroat trout recovery projects in or adjacent to Grand County. Recovery projects are being planned for sections of the Upper Williams Fork, Cabin Creek and Trail Creek. All three of those projects will look to bolster habitat and remove nonnative fish species to aid either the blue or green lineages of the Colorado River cutthroat.

Grand County is home to populations of both the green and blue lineages of the Colorado River cutthroat. The green lineage of the Colorado River cutthroat is aboriginal, or native, to Grand County. The blue lineage is native to the White and Yampa Rivers and additional Colorado River tributaries west of Grand County, but sustained populations have developed in Grand County over the years.

Of the two subspecies of cutthroat trout, greenback cutthroats are found east of the Continental Divide, and Colorado River cutthroats are found west to the west. Each subspecies is further divided into separate lineages, designated by specific colors. The Colorado River cutthroat is broken down into red, green and blue lineages. The greenback cutthroat is broken down into purple and yellow lineages. The green lineage of Colorado River cutthroat are separate and distinct from all greenback cutthroat, regardless of lineage.

Overall, officials from the U.S. Forest Service tally approximately 290 separate populations of the blue lineage cutthroats across the Rocky Mountain west and roughly 55 separate populations of the green lineage.

The situation is much more dire for the greenback cutthroat trout, which was considered extinct for several decades.

According to Matt Fairchild, fisheries biologist for the forest service, the yellow lineage of greenback cutthroat, native to the Arkansas River, are extinct. There are less than half-a-dozen separate populations of the purple lineage, which calls the South Platte and its various tributaries home.

The forest service is also planning a significant recovery project for Long Draw Reservoir, the Grand Ditch and the various streams and creeks that supply Long Draw Reservoir. That project, which will impact 37 miles of stream habitat and 107 acres of lake habitat, all in Long Draw Reservoir, will seek to help recovery efforts for the purple lineage of greenback cutthroats.

Work on the Long Draw Reservoir recovery project, which could begin as early as next summer, entails a series of separate actions. Five fish barriers, both temporary and permanent, will be constructed in tributaries for Long Draw Reservoir. Officials plan to remove nonnative fish species, such as brook trout and brown trout, from waters in the area including Baker Gulch, the Grand Ditch and Parika Lake.

Officials plan to treat Parika Lake with a piscicide called rotenone in an effort to kill all the fish in Parika, which will prevent upstream populations of nonnative fish from infiltrating areas after recovery work has been undertaken. According to Fairchild rotenone is very toxic to fish species, but said the piscicide would not pose a risk to other wildlife that might feed off their carcasses “at all.”

The first phase of the Long Draw recovery project will entail work on the Grand Ditch.

The other three recovery projects in Grand County are expected to start on future unspecified dates. Officials from the forest service noted that movement on those projects will be dependent upon various issues including obtaining funding, approval of federal environmental permits and completion of barricade structures that will ensure recovery efforts are undone by the invasion of additional nonnative fish.

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