Colorado cutthroats kept off endangered list
U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials have determined there isn’t enough evidence to consider the Colorado River cutthroat trout as either a threatened or endangered species.
Several groups – the Center for Biological Diversity, the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Biodiversity Associates, Ancient Forest Rescue, Southwest Trout, Wild Utah Forest Campaign and Colorado Wild – have requested the fish be listed. The federal agency announced its decision earlier this week.
“While the trout has declined from historic levels, the most recent biological information and surveys indicate a significant number of viable, self-sustaining and well-distributed populations are found throughout the historical range,” said Ralph Morgenweck, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Mountain Prairie Region. “The hard work of our state, federal, tribal and private partners is paying off. Their ongoing efforts are responsible for the improved status of the fish and will ensure its long-term prosperity.”
The fish is to be a species of “special concern,” meaning Colorado Division of Wildlife officials are concerned that without preservation efforts, its population could decline and reach a threatened or endangered status.
According to Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, the federal finding admits the species is threatened by habitat destruction from livestock grazing, water diversion, mining, logging and other activities. Non-native trout have displaced the indigenous cutthroat from most of its habitat; whirling disease has infected populations; and the range of the trout has been greatly reduced from historic levels, Greenwald said.
Still, the federal report concludes that the fish doesn’t warrant further protection.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance Tuesday filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue to overturn the decision. The groups expressed particular frustration that the agency elected not to conduct a full status review of the species.
Jackson Streit, a long-time fisherman and owner of Mountain Angler in Breckenridge, isn’t concerned that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife doesn’t plan to list the fish any time soon.
“They definitely have diminished,” he said. “All you really find them is up high. They’re still holding their own. I think the fish are doing fine. There are so many places I can go and catch pure strains.”
There are numerous subspecies of cutthroat trout, as well, and numerous populations of what are known as “cutbows” – a cutthroat and rainbow trout hybrid.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife studies indicate there are 327 “conservation populations” – defined as those fish at least 90 percent pure Colorado River cutthroat trout – in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah. Of those, 286 populations occupy 1,010 miles of streams, and 41 populations live in 1,124 acres of lakes.
Pure cutthroat trout live in 684 miles of streams and 545 acres of lakes, and 53 percent of those live in areas that have barriers that prevent intrusions by non-native fish.
“The division has been working for more than a decade on the recovery of all three native cutthroat,” said Division of Wildlife chief of information Todd Malmsbury. “We’ve made a great deal of progress.”