The Sublette County Journal
Volume 4, Number 16 - 12/16/99
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
State's largest concentration of trout is in Sublette County
by Rob Shaul
Last Thursday, a coalition of seven environmental groups filed a formal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking listing and protection for the Colorado River cutthroat trout. Wyoming's largest concentration of Colorado cutthroat is here in Sublette County along the creeks and streams of the Wyoming Range on the Piney front.
Argument for Listing
A press release distributed by the environmental groups, which submitted the petition, describes the Colorado cutthroat as "in immediate danger of extinction." The release states that the historic range of the Colorado cutthroat has been reduced by 95% and is limited to "small, isolated, headwater streams."
The coalition of environmental groups blame the range reduction on "habitat loss due to grazing, logging, mining and water diversion and the introduction and spread of nonnative trout, such as brook, rainbow and brown, which hybridize with the native."
The groups argue that just 15 populations of the remaining Colorado River cutthroat are secure from non-native trout and other "threats" such as grazing and logging.
Trout in Wyoming and Sublette Co.
Pinedale Game & Fish Biologist Ron Remmick is the fisheries manager for the entire Green River drainage and represents Wyoming in a conservation agreement and recovery strategy for the trout the state has with Colorado and Utah. Mr. Remmick says there are currently three concentrations of Colorado cutthroat in Wyoming. The largest is located in the streams along the Piney front of the Wyoming Range in Sublette County. Mr. Remmick says there are populations of Colorado cutthroat in North and South Horse Creeks, North and South Cottonwood Creeks, North Piney Lake, Fish Creek, and the LaBarge Creek drainages. On the Pinedale side, there is a pure population of the trout in Irish Canyon Creek and another population in Upper Little Sandy Creek.
The other concentrations of Colorado cutthroat in Wyoming are found south of Rawlins in the Little Snake River drainage and in the Blackfoot drainage near Lyman.
Mr. Remmick notes that the Wyoming Game & Fish Department has been working to conserve and recover Colorado cutthroat long before the petition was filed last week. The G&F has been working with Colorado cutthroat since the agency found there were pure populations of the trout way back in the 1970s says Mr. Remmick. Last spring, the Game & Fish Department and Wyoming entered into a tri-state agreement with Colorado and Utah to combine efforts and develop strategies to conserve and protect the trout. "We have not seen any overall population decline since the 1960s " says Mr. Remmick.
Further, current Game & Fish fishing regulations don't prevent fishing in waterways with cutthroat populations and some even allow taking of the fish.
Concerning the petition to list the Colorado cutthroat, Mr. Remmick believes listing the trout could actually hamper recovery efforts. He says while the environmental groups see listing as a solution to the problem, he believes some of the recovery efforts will be "stymied" by the increased paperwork and bureaucracy involved. "You see that now with animals that are listed," Mr. Remmick explains, "you spend more time developing plans and in meetings than doing anything to protect the species."
Jeff Kessler, spokesperson for Biodiversity Associates in Laramie - one of the environmental groups that submitted the petition, disagrees. He admits that listing will add another layer of oversight, but believes the additional scientific scrutiny brought on by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will only help ensure the conservation effort being undertaken is effective. Further, says Mr. Kessler, listing will bring additional resources to restore the trout and it will bring a federal mandate to protect the trout when faced with tough decisions concerning grazing, logging and other activities which may impact the fish.
Mr. Kessler and the environmental groups argue that in the long term, what the Colorado Cutthroat need to survive is "connected populations" to ensure genetic diversity. This involves restricting fishing and cleansing creeks and rivers of non-native trout such as brook, browns, and rainbows, which compete with the cutthroat.
Mr. Remmick agrees. One of the projects planned for this summer is to connect the cutthroat populations in the LaBarge drainage. However, Mr. Kessler is not satisfied with the pace or scale of the Game & Fish's efforts to connect populations. He wants this effort to be greatly expanded. In his words, the effort and cutthroat populations needs to be "moved downstream" and begin with the removal of all the non-native trout, beginning with brookies.
For his part, Mr. Remmick expressed some frustration that the environmental groups criticize the ongoing recovery efforts, yet, "I've never had one of them call and ask to go out and see the work we're doing. It would be nice for them to go out and see what's going on," before they label the current efforts as inadequate.
Mr. Kessler said he has not gone out with Game & Fish personnel to see firsthand the ongoing Colorado cutthroat recovery efforts. "I think that question is a red herring," he responds. He argues that what will determine the recovery of the species is the size and intensity of the recovery effort. He doesn't see how experiencing the effort on a small or narrow scale will change this fact. "Going on a feel good field trip does not translate into recovery of the species," says Mr. Kessler. "I appreciate Ron's offer, but I don't see why that matters."
According to the environmental groups' press release, the Fish and Wildlife Service will have one year to determine whether or not listing the Colorado River Cutthroat is warranted.
The environmental groups' entire petition is available online at www.sw-center.org. Once at this website, click on the "Late Breaking News" link which will lead you
to the petition.
See The Archives for past articles.
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