From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 34 - November 16, 2006
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Federal protection for trout?

by Cat Urbigkit

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week that it is initiating a status review of the Colorado River cutthroat trout to determine whether the species warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act. FWS intends to complete this 12-month review by the court-ordered due date of June 7, 2007.

The issue is an important one for Sublette County and western Wyoming, since native trout populations exist in the Wyoming Range, making this area a key front in the fight over proper land management.

The petition seeking federal protection for Colorado River cutthroats was filed by the Center For Biological Diversity, the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Biodiversity Associates, Ancient Forest Rescue, Southwest Trout, Wild Utah Forest Campaign, Center for Biological Diversity, Colorado Wild and Noah Greenwald.

That petition noted that the Colorado River cutthroat trout occupies less than 5 percent of its historic range, primarily in isolated, small headwater streams.

“This severe range reduction was primarily caused by the stocking and spread of non-native trout, livestock grazing, water diversion, logging, roads and mining. As a result of these factors, the Colorado River cutthroat trout now meets all five factors under the Endangered Species Act for consideration as a threatened species.”

One criteria for listing is the “present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range.” According to the petition, the “catastrophic loss” of habitat was caused by threats that still persist and threaten most remaining populations, including livestock grazing.

“Livestock grazing is occurring in and adjacent to streams harboring 66 percent of remaining pure populations and is known to be negatively affecting the habitat of 34 percent of these populations,” according to the petition.

“Grazing practices have suppressed current Colorado River cutthroat populations rangewide,” the petition stated. “In the opinion of many, livestock grazing on national forest and other lands is the first or second greatest threat to the viability of western cutthroat trout habitats (the other threat being nonnative trout). ”

Another major threat to cutthroats is intense oil and gas development, according to the petition.

“A population of Colorado River cutthroat trout that was transferred from LaBarge Creek into neighboring Pinegrove Creek in the 1970s, for example, was extirpated by an oil spill from a drilling operation,” the petition stated. The petition included a list of streams with Colorado River cutthroat where according to maps there are oil and gas wells:

• Drill holes are found on slopes above several Colorado River cutthroat streams in the Big Piney District, Bridger National Forest, including Maki, Nylander and Hardin Creeks, all tributaries of North Cottonwood Creek.

• Drill holes are found in North and South Cottonwood Creeks.

• Drill holes are found all along North Beaver Creek, tributary to Dry Piney Creek in the Big Piney District

• Drill holes are found on Spring Creek (hybrid), Black Canyon (unknown purity); South Beaver Creek (hybrid); Beaver Creek (unknown purity); Trail Ridge Creek (hybrid); Fogarty Creek (unknown purity); and Dry Piney Creek (unknown purity, possibly pure-strain), all in the Big Piney district of the Bridger National Forest and adjacent BLM land. Fully developed oil and gas wells are also found on Black Canyon and Dry Piney Canyon.

• Drill holes are found near Pinegrove Creek, a tributary of South Piney Creek with a pure-strain population. Oil spills destroyed a population here in the 1970s, which was subsequently replaced with a non-indigenous stock.

• Drill holes and drill sites are found along LaBarge Creek (pure), an important recovery stream.

During the current public comment period, FWS is seeking the latest scientific and commercial information on the status of the cutthroat from the public, government agencies, tribes, industry and the scientific and conservation communities. After gathering and analyzing this information, the FWS will determine whether to propose adding the cutthroat to the federal list of threatened and endangered species. Comments will be received until Jan. 8, 2007.

“The service will evaluate all existing and new information to determine whether threats to the species warrant a listing proposal,” said Mitch King, director of the Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region. “Information from the public or scientific and commercial communities is invaluable in helping the service determine the cutthroat’s status.”

In 1999, FWS received a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and others to list the Colorado River cutthroat trout as threatened or endangered in its occupied habitat within its known historical range. In 2004, FWS determined the petition did not present substantial information indicating that listing may be warranted. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a complaint and the court ordered FWS to conduct a status review for the Colorado River cutthroat trout by June 7, 2007.

The Colorado River cutthroat trout is the only salmonid native to the Upper Colorado River basin. It is distinguished by red/orange slash marks on both sides of its lower jaws and relatively large spots concentrated on the posterior part of the body. The Colorado River cutthroat trout currently occupies portions of the Colorado River drainage in Colorado, southern Wyoming and eastern Utah and may still occur in very limited areas of New Mexico and Arizona.

For more information about the Colorado River Cutthroat Trout please visit FWS’s website at

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