Comment on the Trout Creek fish barrier:
■ Comments can be e-mailed to comments-rocky-mo.... When submitting comments on the Web, the subject line must be “Trout Creek Fish Barrier” to ensure proper routing.
■ Written comments should be submitted to Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests, Attn: District Ranger, P.O. Box 7, Yampa, CO 80483. Telephone: 970-638-4516. Fax: 970-638-4635. When submitting comments, include full name and address.
■ Future documents and information on the Trout Creek Fish Barrier will be posted at www.fs.fed.us/r2/mbr/projects/wildlife. Members of the public may use the site to participate in the analysis.
Steamboat Springs The Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest is seeking public comments on a plan to build a fish barrier in Trout Creek upstream from Sheriff Reservoir.
The intent is to protect stream populations of native Colorado River cutthroat trout from a parasitic infection known to be carried by other species of trout in the reservoir. Because their historic range has shrunk dramatically, the cutthroats are designated as a species of special concern by the Colorado Division of Wildlife and a sensitive species by the U.S. Forest Service.
Acting Yampa District Ranger Andy Cadenhead said this week that there are no plans to do anything that would affect existing populations of rainbow, brown and brook trout in the reservoir, which is about 10 miles west of Yampa in Rio Blanco County. The reservoir is also the domestic water supply for Oak Creek.
“The fish barrier is needed to protect a self-sustaining population of Colorado River cutthroat trout,” Cadenhead said. “The (health) of this Colorado River cutthroat population is currently threatened by whirling disease and secondarily by competition with non-native brook trout, brown trout and rainbow trout. Given the ability of the disease to spread rapidly, a quick response is likely needed to keep Trout Creek and this cutthroat population whirling-disease-free.”
The barrier would take the form of a man-made waterfall too high for the fish in the reservoir to clear.
“Brook trout and rainbows aren’t like salmon,” Cadenhead said. “They can’t jump that high.”
The Forest Service is analyzing the plan under the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. Public notice of the project was published in the March 21 Steamboat Pilot & Today, giving members of the public 30 days from that date to make formal comments about the plan.
Whirling disease is caused by a microscopic parasite that affects young trout by damaging cartilage and killing the fish, in many cases. Colorado River cutthroats were once found in more than 20,000 miles of streams in the Rocky Mountain states, but that range has shrunk dramatically. In addition to the spread of whirling disease and competition from species such as brook trout, a wide variety of land management practices have affected the trout, Cadenhead said. They include overgrazing, road construction and timber harvest, water depletion and mining.
They also crossbreed with rainbow trout, a tendency that dilutes the population of pure native cutthroats.
Cadenhead said Colorado River cutthroat trout populations on the Routt National Forest have been depleted, but the area remains a strong foothold of the native trout species.
“It’s a really good place to protect,” he said. “There are really good populations scattered across the forest. (Trout Creek) is a really good place to isolate them.”
The Forest Service estimates that historically, Colorado cutthroats occupied almost 1,300 miles of streams on the Routt National Forest. Today, 25 conservation populations of the fish occupy 222 miles of streams. That’s about 17 percent of their historical habitat.
Cadenhead said he suspects that a natural tangle of logs upstream from the reservoir, plus a man-made flume that accelerates the current, have functioned as an effective barrier to discourage trout from the lake migrating upstream into the native cutthroat habitat. But those features could be temporary, he said.
The new barrier would be built about 200 feet upstream from the reservoir. The project includes building a public information kiosk that describes whirling disease, the goals of conserving native cutthroat trout and the public role. Fisheries biologists also will continue to check for the presence of whirling disease upstream from the barrier to gauge its effectiveness, Cadenhead said.