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Partnership Helps Native Trout
by Craig L. Springer
US Fish and Wildlife Service
Craig_Springer at fws_gov
The Rio Grande cutthroat trout once ranged over much of the upper Rio Grande basin in New Mexico and southern Colorado. Competition with non-native trout, coupled with habitat loss, now limits the imperiled native trout to less than 10 percent of its original range. But its range is growing, thanks in part to a multi-agency partnership.
In 1995, the Jicarilla Apache Tribe acquired the Running Elk Ranch in northern New Mexico, part of their traditional homeland. The ranchs two streams, Willow and Poso creeks, were historic habitat for the Rio Grande cutthroat trout, but had been stocked with non-native trouts. Committed to enhancing their native fauna, the Tribe sought to restore the Rio Grande cutthroat trout to the two creeks.
Funded by a grant from the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, the Jicarilla Game and Fish Department, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and the Services New Mexico Fishery Resources Office, work jointly to restore the native fish populations on the ranch.
The agencies readying the streams for the cutthroats, performed habitat assessments, built fish barriers, and removed the non-native trout. Just this spring, biologists planted 210 Rio Grande cutthroat trout into five miles of good habitat in Willow Creek. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish supplied the trout which consisted of three age classes. In short, the fish will be ready to spawn this year and are well on their way to becoming established. Poso Creek is slated to receive cutthroats this fall.
Jim White, Fisheries Biologist for the Jicarilla Game and Fish Department applauded the recent success. This was a unique opportunity to work cooperatively with the other agencies, said White. The Jicarilla Tribe is quite enthused about re-establishing a native trout on Native American lands.
Barry Wiley, of the New Mexico Fishery Resources Office, commended the conservation efforts, too.
This one stocking effectively increased the range of genetically pure Rio Grande cutts by about five percent, said Wiley. But this is a value-added project. Thanks to our partnership, these new populations should go a long way in expanding the range of this fish.
The project does not end with the stocking. The agencies will monitor the abundance of the newly established populations and keep a watch for disease outbreaks.
And Wiley is right. Benefits from the partnership should be reaped for some time to come. By formal agreement, these new populations will serve as a source of eggs and young fish, used to further expand their range and increasing recreational fishing opportunities.