Collective effort keeps Southern Utah native trout off endangered species list

Dixie National Forest fish biologist Mike Golden and Trout Unlimited President Tyler Farling scout Deep Creek to shock and collect Bonneville cutthroat trout, Dixie National Forest, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Sierra Malm via U.S. Forest Service, St. George News

DIXIE NATIONAL FOREST — Representatives and volunteers from several organizations recently united to collect native fish and restore them to a stream within their historic range in Southern Utah.

Officials and volunteers from Dixie National Forest, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Southern Utah University Wildlife Club and Trout Unlimited’s Color Country Chapter during a trout restoration project, Dixie National Forest, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Sierra Malm via U.S. Forest Service, St. George News

Bonneville cutthroat trout restoration efforts in the East Fork Sevier River drainage on the Dixie National Forest began in 2016 by removing nonnative trout from two creeks in the drainage — Blubber Creek and Upper Kanab Creek.

Two years later, officials and volunteers from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the Dixie National Forest, Southern Utah University’s Wildlife Club and Trout Unlimited’s newly minted Color Country Chapter joined together to collect Bonneville cutthroat trout from an existing remnant population found in Deep Creek.

The crew collected over 100 trout and relocated them to the previously treated Upper Kanab Creek. This marks the completion of the U.S. Forest Service’ first phase of the restoration project.

Future phases will involve the construction of permanent and temporary fish barriers, additional nonnative fish removal and the restoration of Bonneville cutthroat trout to over 50 miles of stream, including more than 35 miles of stream in the East Fork Sevier River upstream from Tropic Reservoir.

Bonneville cutthroat trout are native to the Great Basin, and their population declined to less than 10 percent of their historical range by the 1970s. Their population decline is the result of habitat fragmentation and habitat degradation due to the invasion of nonnative trout species that were brought to the area by settlers.

Southern Utah University Wildlife Club President Mike Contente releases Bonneville cutthroat trout into Upper Kanab Creek, Dixie National Forest, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Sierra Malm via U.S. Forest Service, St. George News

Nonnative trout species, such as brown trout, rainbow trout and brook trout, compete and hybridize with native trout, as well as introduce diseases and parasites, all of which have played a major role in the decline of Bonneville cutthroat trout populations. The species has been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act, but conservation actions like the East Fork Sevier River restoration project have helped keep the species off the endangered species list.

Similar restoration efforts have been ongoing since the 1970s and have involved collaboration between multiple federal and state agencies, including the Forest Service and Division of Wildlife Resources.

“When we know that it’s human actions that led to a major decline in a species, and we have the opportunity to turn that back around, why wouldn’t we,” Dixie National Forest fish biologist Mike Golden said in a press release issued by the Forest Service.

The East Fork Sevier River restoration project is one of several projects in Southern Utah designed to develop secure, interconnected Bonneville cutthroat trout populations with the ability to recolonize independently after a disturbance. Once these large-scale population restoration projects are complete, biologists believe these native trout populations will be secure in Southern Utah.

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1 Comment

  • Carpe Diem October 30, 2018 at 9:18 am

    Good job! Love the native cutthroats. Caught one up in the Sierra’s, at that particular lake they are endangered and must be released. It was skinny and looked much different… the lake was high and very sterile compared to Utah’s lakes.

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