Elk Creek project intended to protect cutthroat trout

MEEKER | Conservation populations of Colorado River Cutthroat Trout (cutthroat) in Colorado have been reduced to about 7 percent of their historic range. This reduction makes projects that enhance native fisheries in local rivers increasingly important. Conservation projects that improve cutthroat trout populations are priority partner projects with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and Trout Unlimited.
The Blanco Ranger District on the White River National Forest is seeking comments on its proposal to install a barrier to upstream fish passage in North Elk Creek, a tributary to the White River, east of Meeker, Colo. The North Elk Creek watershed is occupied by a conservation population of blue lineage cutthroat. The genetics of this population are slightly different from other blue lineage populations in the state making this population unique.
“We have an opportunity to protect and enhance the unique blue lineage cutthroat population in the North Elk Creek through this partner-project,” stated Curtis Keetch, district ranger. “The barrier will promote a healthy and viable population in the future.”
This unique species of blue lineage cutthroat are at risk of hybridization and competition from other species of non-native fish. The barrier installation will help to reclaim the North Elk headwaters and increase the likelihood that blue lineage cutthroat have the genetic capacity to sustain themselves indefinitely in their native habitat.
“This project is a unique opportunity to protect a long stretch of connected habitat, including several tributaries, which will greatly increase the likelihood of the population persisting into the future, as well as help us meet our conservation goals for native trout across Colorado,” stated Tory Eyre, Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist.
The process to grow a healthy population will take several years. After construction of the barrier, CPW will remove fish from the watershed above the barrier using several treatments of Rotenone or a similar chemical. The watershed above the barrier will be left fishless for two to three years post-treatment in an effort to break the life cycle of Whirling disease and reduce or eliminate it from the watershed above the barrier. Once it has been determined that non-native fish have been removed above the barrier, CPW will reintroduce North Elk cutthroat above the barrier.
How to Comment:
The forest is now soliciting comments on the proposed action. Your feedback on this proposal will assist in refining design features and identifying potential issues that may not have been raised during the collaborative process. Comments specific to the proposed action that identify a cause-effect relationship are most helpful. The following options are available for submitting comments:
Electronic comments including attachments can be submitted to:cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/CommentInput?Project=51028
Hardcopy comments can be mailed, hand-delivered or faxed as follows:
Mail: White River National Forest, Blanco Ranger District, 94 CR 244, Rifle, Colo., 81650.
Hand-delivered: 220 East Market St., Meeker, Colo., 81641. Faxed: 970-625-2532. Be sure to note on the cover page that comments are for the North Elk Creek Fish Barrier Project, Attn: R. Clay Ramey.
Comments will be accepted any time, but will be most helpful if submitted before March 17. Names and contact information submitted with comments will become part of the public record and may be released under the Freedom of Information Act. Decisions that are categorically excluded from documentation in an EA or EIS are not subject to an administrative review process (pre-decisional objection process) (Agriculture Act of 2014, Subtitle A, Sec. 8006).
Additional information regarding this action can be obtained from: www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=51028, R. Clay Ramey, 94 CR 244, Rifle, Colo., 81650; by phone: 970-625-6849; or by email: rramey@fs.fed.us.