Category Archives: Trout and Salmon

Arctic Grayling in Michigan

Efforts Continue to Reintroduce Arctic Grayling in Michigan

By MAKENZIE SCHROEDER
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
from The Fishing Wire

Michigan Grayling


It’s been a little over two years since the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, in partnership with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, announced a new initiative to bring back a long-gone historical species – Arctic grayling – to the Great Lakes state.

Michigan’s Arctic Grayling Initiative – with more than 45 partners, including state and tribal governments, nonprofit organizations, businesses and universities – is committed to reintroducing this culturally significant species, with steady progress made since June 2016.

“Our formal mission as an initiative is to restore self-sustaining populations of Arctic grayling within its historic range in Michigan,” said DNR Fisheries Division Assistant Chief Todd Grischke.

Michigan’s history with the Arctic grayling is long and storied. A striking fish with a sail-like dorsal fin and a slate blue color on its body, it was virtually the only native stream salmonid (a family of fish that also includes salmon and trout) in the Lower Peninsula until the resident population died off nearly a century ago.

“The fact we have a town named after this fish indicates just how iconic it was, and still is, to many in this state,” Grischke said. “When you add in other factors – such as the fact they’re only native to Michigan and Montana out of all the lower 48 states – it just adds to their legendary status.”

In the 19th century, Arctic grayling were found in many coldwater streams in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula and in one Upper Peninsula stream – and large populations of grayling flourished in the Manistee and Au Sable rivers – offering anglers plenty of opportunity to catch these unique fish.

But a variety of factors slowly erased their presence, including the cutting of Michigan’s vast virgin forest in the 1800s.

“Logging practices during that time period used streams to transport trees that were harvested. The streams carried logs to mills for processing,” explained Grischke. “These practices greatly impacted the physical nature of those streams and basically destroyed stream habitats for fish, including grayling spawning areas.”

Additionally, the cutting of the trees caused blockages in many of those same streams, often displacing grayling from where they lived, but this was just one issue that affected Michigan’s Arctic grayling, another being the introduction of non-native fish species.

“Other types of trout were introduced into Michigan’s waters to create additional opportunities for anglers to pursue – but a consequence of this action was that grayling couldn’t compete with more aggressive fish like brown, rainbow or brook trout,” Grischke said.

The other factor that led to the species’ demise was overfishing, as people harvested grayling in large quantities with no possession limits or other regulations to stop them.

The last native Arctic grayling on record in Michigan were caught in 1936. Since that time, natural resource managers have repeatedly looked for options to reintroduce the species.

“In the late 1800s and early 1900s they tried stocking millions of Arctic grayling fry into Michigan streams, but that didn’t work,” said Grischke. “And then in the 1980s we, the DNR, stocked hatchery-reared yearlings into lakes and streams, but again to no avail.”

In each of these previous reintroduction efforts, something critical was missing that prevented these populations from flourishing, but the Michigan Arctic Grayling Initiative hopes to rectify that.

“We have learned from the previous reintroduction events and plan to capitalize on new approaches, dedicated partnerships and advanced technology,” Grischke explained.

Much of the initiative’s focus is detailed in its official action plan, reflective of the vast work to be done by various partners.

The group is gleaning as much information as possible from the state of Montana and its successful effort at re-establishing stable Arctic grayling populations. In addition to Michigan receiving help from biologists in Montana, both states also have been collaborating with Alaska.

“Within our action plan we’ve identified four focus areas and associated goals that were developed by all the partners and that we believe will give us the best chance of success moving forward,” said Grischke.

The four focus areas of the action plan are research, management, fish production, and outreach and education.

The research focus area includes work – already under way – on understanding relationships between resident trout and grayling, prioritizing streams for grayling introduction and evaluating in-stream remote site incubators. These incubators allow fish to be reared and released directly in the streams to better allow them to imprint to the waters they hopefully will reproduce in later.

Better imprinting means the initiative will be one step closer to establishing a self-sustaining population of Arctic grayling, which is the ultimate outcome of this effort.

The cost to reintroduce the fish will total around $1.1 million, according to DNR Fisheries Division Chief Jim Dexter, with virtually the entire amount being supplied through private and foundation support.

To date, nearly $325,000 has been raised for the initiative. Contributors include the Consumers Energy Foundation, the Henry E. and Consuelo S. Wenger Foundation, Rotary Charities of Traverse City, Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation, Oleson Foundation and Little Manistee River Watershed Conservation Council. Plans are under way to recognize donors at Oden State Fish Hatchery.

“A diverse group of partners has invested themselves toward attaining a shared goal, and that says something about the nature of this project,” said Dexter.

Funders are critical in financially supporting various projects within the initiative.

“I am delighted to play a role in returning the Arctic grayling to northern Michigan’s streams,” said Charles Wilson, a member of the Henry E. and Consuelo S. Wenger Foundation’s board. “There has been a void in Michigan’s biotic community for way too long, but thanks to knowledge gained from Montana’s experience and research performed elsewhere, a reasonable chance exists today for successful reintroduction.”

Goals for the management focus area will include evaluating key habitat criteria, establishing population goals, and working on regulations related to fishing for grayling.

The fish production focus area’s work will center on experimenting with remote site incubator designs, ensuring fish health standards are upheld and maintaining a genetically diverse broodstock (fish used for breeding purposes) that will be housed at a hatchery facility.

Lastly, goals for the outreach and education focus area will be concentrated on informing the public about this initiative’s efforts, identifying future partners and creating a stewardship plan.

“The goals of these focus areas will be accomplished by partner representatives working together,” Grischke shared. “The only way this initiative will be successful is if we continue to work together towards our mission.”

To learn more about the Michigan Arctic Grayling Initiative, visit migrayling.org.

Check out previous Showcasing the DNR stories in our archive at michigan.gov/dnrstories. To subscribe to upcoming Showcasing articles, sign up for free email delivery at michigan.gov/dnr.

What Are Greenback Cutthroats?

Greenback Cutthroats Get a Boost into the Colorado Back Country

This week, the endangered Greenback Cutthroat Trout got a major boost from Trout Unlimited volunteers and agency partners in Colorado.
from The Fishing Wire

Spreading trout


CLEAR CREEK, CO — Once thought to be extinct, the rare greenback cutthroat trout is making a big comeback thanks to the efforts of the Greenback Cutthroat Recovery Team – a partnership that includes the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife, the National Park Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Western Native Trout Initiative, and Trout Unlimited.

Over the course of two days in mid-July, 1,700 Year 1 Cutthroats (~4-6 inches) made their way into two headwater drainages in the Clear Creek Watershed, an hour west of Denver, CO. The Dry Gulch and Herman Gulch creeks represent the first major river populations for this threatened species since it was rediscovered in 2012.

To help agency partners stock these important little fish, over 80 Trout Unlimited volunteers carried the cutthroats in large packs up steep switchbacks and bush-wacked through dense brush to get to the remote rivers. Some people hiked over six miles into the top of the drainage (over 11,500 feet)! These volunteers came from ten different TU chapters and represented all walks of life – anglers and conservationists coming together to recover this native trout.

“We couldn’t do it without the volunteers,” says Paul Winkle, Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist for the Clear Creek Drainage. It was a major undertaking that took a lot of support from agency staff, non-profit partners, and local businesses.

At Colorado TU, we are very proud of the hard work and dedication that our chapters and volunteers provide to these projects. It shows what can happen when people focus on collaboration and overcoming differences. It didn’t matter whether someone was young or old, Democrat or Republican, a dry fly purist or never fished before – we were all side by side, climbing those steep trails together. All to save the Greenback.

That’s right! Over 80 volunteers and 20+ agency staff from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, US Forest Service, and US Fish and Wildlife service packed up 1700 native Greenback cutthroat trout to be released along Dry Gulch and Herman Gulch on July 16 & 18. These little trout were raised in a hatchery as part of a statewide effort to restore population’s of Colorado’s state fish. I’m not sure if you can tell if a fish is happy, but those little guys sure looked excited to be released into their new home. Check out the video spotlight that CBS Local Channel 4 did about the effort, below:

Feeling inspired? Learn more about Native Trout across Colorado – the efforts to protect and restore populations and ways to get involved.

Volunteers gather before setting off to deliver native trout to their new home. Volunteers and staff from:

U.S. Forest Service-Arapaho & Roosevelt Natl Forests Pawnee Natl Grassland, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Southwest Region, Pikes Peak Chapter of Trout Unlimited #508, St. Vrain Anglers Trout Unlimited, The Greenbacks | Colorado Trout Unlimited, basin + bend, Western Native Trout Initiative, Dublin Dog Co., West Denver Trout Unlimited, Cutthroat Chapter of Trout Unlimited,Boulder Flycasters, Colorado Parks and Wildlife,Trout Unlimited, Gore Range Anglers – Trout Unlimited and Upslope Brewing Company.

A big shout out to all the volunteers who came out to hike and haul the native trout to their new homes, and to the various groups and agencies that came out to restore Colorado’s native fisheries. Read the full story that CBS Channel 4 News did here.

Pictured: Western Native Trout Initiative Sticker and Dublin Dog Co. trout collar.

Thank you to the following:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife
US Forest Service
US Fish and Wildlife
Western Native Trout Initiative
Dublin Dog Co.
Upslope Brewing Co.
Basin + Bend
Loveland Ski Co.
The Greenbacks
CBS Channel News 4
Trout Unlimited Chapters
Trout Unlimited

Cutthroat Trout

Artifacts of Epochs Past: Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout Benefit From Private Lands Conservation
—Craig Springer
from The Fishing Wire

One might say that the past is dead and gone—but that notion doesn’t fly on the Vermejo Park Ranch, near Raton, New Mexico.

Managers of this private land seek to restore long reaches of mountain streams for the benefit of native Rio Grande cutthroat trout—not to mention the guided anglers who seek to catch the rare fish.

Crucial to the endeavor is a private-public partnership fostered through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service). Ranch employee Lief Ahlm has been involved with native fish conservation for decades, and his interest in this present project comes only natural.

If you didn’t know better, one would think that a cartographer laid a turkey’s foot on paper, traced it, and made it into a map of a northern New Mexico watershed. The headwaters of the Vermejo River trickle over the Colorado state line into New Mexico and the storied Vermejo Park Ranch at the heart of the historic Maxwell Land Grant where the southern Rockies meet the prairie.

Three rivulets, the “toes” of the turkey foot, converge in an open vega—a big meadow—hemmed in close on one side by a steep, craggy high-wall of stone the color of a pronghorn’s pelt. Adventurous ponderosa pine trees cling against gravity, their roots veining into rock crevices. It is steep, impressive and imposing.

On the other side, the slope fans westward, gently, then precipitously to 11,000-foot purplish peaks that typify the southern Rockies. The remains of last winter’s snows tip the peaks like dollops of thick cream. That snow, what little of it that exists, is future trout habitat when it spills off the mountainsides and soaks wetlands or percolates over gravelly riffles and purls through dark pools.

At the base of the high-wall flows the North Fork of the Vermejo River. By eastern standards, it’s a little rill—and not a river at all. It adjoins the Little Vermejo Creek which is slightly larger in volume. Mere feet away, the two, now one, converge with the third toe, Ricardo Creek. The turkey foot’s spur is a two-mile-long spring run that joins the Vermejo proper another mile downstream.

Their cold, clear waters all possess another quality worth caring about, according to Ahlm, a fish biologist for Vermejo Park Ranch. “The Vermejo River and its tribs hold an aboriginal population of Rio Grande cutthroat trout, unique to the headwaters of Canadian River drainage in New Mexico,” Ahlm said. “The cutthroat trout in these streams are holdovers from another time—and they have survived an onslaught of habitat loss and competition with introduced brook trout native to Appalachia.”

Water pouring off the east face of these mountains will eventually flow through Texas’s northern panhandle then through Oklahoma and onto the Mississippi. There’s nothing unusual about that necessarily, but the fish that swims here have immeasurable intrinsic value, an artifact of an epoch past.

The Rio Grande cutthroat trout was the first trout documented in the New World, in 1541. A chronicler of the Coronado entrada noted truchas swimming about in a tributary to the Pecos River as the explorers made their way onward to Kansas. The Rio Grande cutthroat trout is one of 13 existing cutthroat subspecies that occur from coastal Alaska and over the spine of the Rockies southward to New Mexico. The Rio Grande is the southernmost cutthroat and is one of only three cutthroat subspecies that live in waters flowing eastward off the Rockies. All other western native trout live in waters that drain to the Pacific. The Rio Grande cutthroat persists in the upper Rio Grande basin, the upper Pecos and here in the furthest reaches of small Canadian River tributaries. The pretty trout resides in only 10 percent of its natural range. Rio Grande cutthroat trout retreated to small headwater streams due to habitat lost to overgrazing and a century of competition with nonnative trout species.

Vermejo Park Ranch was the first site to re-introduce elk into New Mexico following its extirpation resulting from unregulated subsistence harvest more than a century ago. In keeping with that spirit, the past lives large here as expressed in how this private land is managed. It’s owned by Turner Enterprises, which has endeavored to restore the land toward natural conditions and native wildlife. Buffalo roam where overstocked cattle herds once loafed. They eventually make their way to market.

The past matters to Ahlm. He holds a personal affinity for New Mexico history; he’s conversant in some of the most arcane texts on the subject. He originates from the northwest corner of the state, got educated in fisheries science at New Mexico State University. He followed that with a long and fruitful career with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, and still holds a personal affection to the agency he once worked for.

“I had a front-row view of some of the greatest conservation work in New Mexico,” said Ahlm, speaking toward the many projects that he worked on through the decades: big horn sheep and pronghorn transplants, and law enforcement. But his heart’s desires lay with fish conservation. Ahlm managed the famous San Juan River trout fishery for a time and was involved in native fish conservation endeavors in all corners of the state.

And his heart is still in it, and thus his involvement with the Service’s Partners of Fish and Wildlife Program—a partnership with the express purpose of improving habitat for the rare trout on the ranch—that in the end can help keep the fish off the endangered species list.

Les Dhaseleer, Natural Resources Division Manager at Vermejo, and Carter Kruse, Director of Natural Resources for Turner Enterprises, consulted with Service biologist Angel Montoya, to set aside stream sections to exclude deer, elk, and bison. The intent was to rest select areas of streamside vegetation from forage by wildlife and allow nature to heal trout habitat. Since 2014, 10 half-mile-long blocks of stream have been rested by tall fencing over a dozen collective stream miles. The outcome has been impressive to witness.

“The fenced areas have seen a profusion of willow growth, shading and cooling the water and stabilizing the stream banks. That’s good for trout,” Ahlm said. “The stream channel narrows and the forces of the water dig deeper pools and moves sediment along making more space from cutthroat trout and habitat for bugs they eat. Cottonwood pole plantings help stabilize banks and add shade and structure, and bird habitat.”

Dhaseleer says that project involves long-term monitoring of water quality and aquatic insect composition along the length of the Vermejo River through the ranch. Once these half-mile sections heal, the intent is to move fence materials to the next blocks to rest and restore adjacent stream sections. It’s a long-term affair, and in the end should yield quality habitat for Rio Grande cutthroat trout and other species, such as the endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse.

Surveys have yet to turn up the mouse, but the habitat could exist now and certainly into the future. Subsurface water spreads laterally from the streams as a result of the exclosures, broadening the breadth the stream’s influence on adjacent vegetation. Soppy soils and associated vegetation could be a future abode for the rare mouse. The new exclosures have invited beavers to take up housekeeping as well.

Montoya is impressed with the resiliency of the streamside vegetation and wildlife.

“It’s visually stunning to witness the differences, then and now—and so soon. A beaver dam is a measure of success; it’s interesting to see how quickly the dam was built after we erected the exclosures,” Montoya said. “The magnitude of the overall project and the landowner’s commitment to conservation will benefit cutthroat trout and other wildlife for decades.”

Kruse says that the Partners Program has been a tremendous benefit to the conservation work on the ranch. “Teaming up with the Fish and Wildlife Service allowed us to do the work faster and bigger with expanded intellectual power,” said Kruse. “By ourselves, we’d still be on exclosure number-three.”

So with Ahlm, he’s technically on career number two, but it must have been a seamless transition. That was probably so with another former New Mexico Game and Fish employee, Elliot Barker.

The two men intersect in spirit.

The late Barker is a legendary figure in conservation and his presence is felt at Vermejo and beyond. Aldo Leopold was his Forest Service supervisor in the 1910s. After working for Vermejo Park Ranch as a game manager in the late 1920s, Barker went on to serve as director of the Game and Fish Department for 22 years. He was instrumental in making Smokey Bear an icon. Barker helped found the National Wildlife Federation and advocated for wilderness decades ago. The conservationist published seven books on outdoors pursuits and western life. Beatty’s Cabin is a classic. He died in 1988 at 101. Nearby Elliot Barker State Wildlife Management Area is appropriately named.

Ahlm and Barker both came of age in northern New Mexico, though decades apart from one another. Fishing and hunting and conservation intertwined their lives and their careers. Barker cared about native trout of northern New Mexico probably as much as Ahlm and his colleagues.

Barker’s cabin where he and his wife and two young daughters lived for a time is perched on a hillside above a most picturesque Castle Rock at Vermejo.

“You can’t help but feel a kinship to Barker out here,” said Ahlm. “He and I both worked for the same outfits, and I suspect that working here influenced his conservation ethic and the progression of his long career. It’s kind of cool,” he says, passing through a gate of an exclosure where ranch employees are busy augering holes for cottonwood poles near the spur of the turkey foot.

Mere feet away Rio Grande cutthroat trout, followed by their silent shadows throw up puffs of sand as they scurry for the cover of grass thickets that hang over a cut bank.

Learn more at vermejoparkranch.com and www.fws.gov/partners

Springer is with External Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Southwest Region

Are Trout Seeing Colors?

By Kirk Deeter, Trout Unlimited
from The Fishing Wire

Colorful trout fly


Years ago, I had a conversation with the late, great Dr. Robert Behnke on the subject of trout seeing colors, and how much that mattered in terms of fly selection. His answer was a good one that has since stuck with me, and it greatly influences how and when I choose certain fly patterns.

He said that fish do indeed see colors, and that they are perhaps more perceptive to colors on the blue-violet side of the spectrum. Add to that the fact that when you go down in depth in a lake or river, certain colors lose their brilliance, starting on the red side of the spectrum.

For example, a scuba diver will tell you that they need a red filter for their underwater camera, because after only a few feet, what above the surface looks more like candy apple red, actually looks more of a muted gray. Thus, certain fly selections make more sense. For example, you can turn over a million rocks in the river and never see a natural bug that looks remotely like a purple Prince Nymph. But a purple Prince works because it grabs attention. The pink San Juan worm you run in high water, really looks more pinkish-gray to the fish several feet down in a run, and pinkish-gray happens to be what many annelids look like.

The short lesson from Behnke was that when the hatch was on, and you’re matching naturals, you need to be much more exact with colors. If it’s a PMD hatch, and the fish know it, you need to be yellowish-creamish-pinkish with the fly. It doesn’t make much sense to throw a purple parachute Adams, for example in the middle of a natural baetis hatch. If, on the other hand, you’re just prospecting, and want to grab attention, the purples and the flashes and all that work better, but usually underneath the water surface.

For fish looking up to eat dry flies, they’re looking into a silvery glare most often. There, Behnke added that the silhouette of the fly is paramount. And that’s why the simple black, rubber-legged beetle, or Chernobyl Ant is hard to beat. The naturals might be tan or green or brown, but if there aren’t an abundance of naturals, a black terrestrial is a great choice as a “prospecting” fly.

On the other hand, if the hoppers are hitting the water en masse, and the fish know it, that’s when you might switch back to the yellow or tan body. Just a thought. And of course, this might all change from river to river, and season to season. But the theory was inspired by one of the greatest minds to study trout.

And it does seem to play out on the water. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT Magazine, a publication of Trout Unlimited, and the vice president of Trout Media. He lives and works in the mountains outside of Denver.

Thank a Beaver for Your Trout Stream

Thank a Beaver for Your Trout Stream

Making trout habitat with fake beaver dams


Beaver dam analog: mimicking the real thing
by Toner Mitchell, Trout Unlimited
from
The Fishing Wire

I recently visited a tailwater stream known for its capacity to produce lots of brown trout, some of them quite large. The reservoir feeding this stream is operated exclusively for downstream agricultural users, the result of which is that the fishery is also renowned for its poor conditions in winter, when dam releases are curtailed and the stream becomes a thin vein of shallow puddles, trickles, and exposed spawning redds. Since this stream is in the coldest corner of New Mexico, anchor ice is common.

I was pleased to see the latest work of the beaver population, knowing that their ponds would provide winter refuge for fish. But I was there to see the leveling device (beaver deceiver) installed by the New Mexico Game and Fish department to mitigate the legitimate though misplaced concern of downstream irrigators, who felt that the beavers were holding back valuable water from ranches and farms. The deceiver was working as intended, sending water downstream while limiting the pond’s depth and expanse so as not to inundate an adjacent parking lot.

My next stop was a nearby fly shop. I proudly reported my observations to the proprietor, who proceeded to give me an earful. The stretch of stream occupied by the beavers had always been a money spot for his guides and their clients. Until, that is, the beavers took up residence. The pond had since become a bugless sucker hole devoid of trout, and though he acknowledged the positive impact of the beaver impoundment on riparian storage and late season flows, the shop owner judged the local beavers as a net detriment to the fishery. Beavers are either good or bad, he opined, never both.

The beaver is a keystone species, generally defined as an organism that exerts an outsized influence on the function and even formation of an ecosystem. Beaver dams capture peak flows, prolong spring runoff, while supporting and extending baseflows with water stored in riparian aquifers. Their deep ponds concentrate nutrients and macroinvertebrates; they provide shelter and security for trout, especially in winter.

Understandably, the perceived downside of beavers comes with the keystone package. Like wolves, another disproportionately influential animal, beavers disrupt on a landscape scale. They not only plug up streams, but ditches, culverts, and bridges. Their dams inundate yards, fields, and pastures used by livestock and campers. Beavers kill and eat prized trees. The disgruntled fly shop owner hypothesized that his favorite run-turned-hated-beaver-pond might have warmed too much to harbor the trout it once did and, along with possibly consuming too much oxygen, accumulated silt may have buried insect production.

For what little it’s worth, I’ve personally witnessed few instances where beavers have negatively impacted trout. I don’t doubt that it happens, certainly not in this case, but I think such stories should be viewed in the broader context of watershed health. Consider how many of our highest quality fisheries (and grazing pastures) were literally made by beavers. They cleared trees to build their dams, which filled with trapped sediment and forced channel migration across floodplains. Over time, floodplains expanded and thickened thanks to further beaver-induced sediment deposition. This long process created thick, spongy meadows, essentially grass-skinned reservoirs feeding streams with cooled groundwater.

In addition to logging, mining, grazing, floodplain development, and road building, our large scale beaver extirpation in the late 1800s contributed greatly to watershed degradation. Without beavers, natural and man-made “nick points” went unrepaired, leading to channel incision and headcutting. By armoring and straightening streams for flood control, we actually intensified flooding by concentrating flow and increasing its cutting force. As a result, our beaver-created meadow reservoirs have been drying from within for many decades.

As climate change tightens its unpredictable yet certain grip on our landscapes, it falls on us, the ultimate keystone species, to restore the land’s capacity to absorb disturbance while maintaining function. To hedge against drought, we must lift and spread water tables and reconnect streams with their floodplains, especially in headwater regions. Reconnected floodplains will also enable our streams to de-energize high intensity precipitation events, particularly important in this era of common wildfire.

Where beavers live, we must make them welcome, as they are the cheapest and most efficient means of restoring the greatest acreage of watershed in the shortest timeframe. They work around the clock and accept food as payment; no matter how hard we try, we will never find a better deal than that.

And where they don’t live, we must imitate them; thanks to conservation groups in New Mexico, including the Truchas Chapter of TU, imitating beavers may soon become the hottest trend in stream restoration. Volunteer-made beaver dam analogs (BDAs) employ natural materials and are designed to pass water, trap sediment, and raise riparian water tables. Combined with willow and cottonwood plantings, which provide stream shading and future beaver food, BDAs create true beaver habitat and often attract the real animals to continue this important work.

As a wise man I know once said, “In times of flood, prepare for drought. In drought, prepare for flood.” I’m not sure, but I think this guy may have been a beaver in a previous life.

Toner Mitchell is TU’s New Mexico Water and Habitat Program coordinator for New Mexico.

Read more from T.U. at www.tu.org.

Trout Unlimited New Science Promotes Trout Recovery

New Science Promotes Trout Recovery

By Chris Wood, CEO/President
Trout Unlimited
from The Fishing Wire

Some define conservation as overseeing loss. Loss of wetlands; loss of open space; loss of water quality; loss of species. Aldo Leopold harkened to this when he wrote in the Sand County Almanac that “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

One of the things that Trout Unlimited does so well is to re-frame the question of overseeing loss to one of advancing recovery. Trout and salmon are remarkably resilient creatures. They have survived for millennia, and if given half a chance will respond to restoration. This fact makes a new tool developed by TU scientists and university, state and federal partners so exciting.

Almost every western native trout, and many forms of Pacific salmon and steelhead have been proposed or are listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The historic focus of the ESA is to keep species from becoming extinct. Because resources are so limited, when recovery efforts do occur they often lack the data necessary to evaluate extinction risks and the benefits of management activities based on quantitative information.

Thanks to a grant from NASA, TU scientists, working with universities and state and federal partners, developed a new method of looking across broad landscapes to make informed judgments about where extinction is likely to occur, and how to take concrete steps to improve the security of existing populations and, in some cases, enable successful reintroductions.

Lahonan cutthroat trout, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, are coming back to their native watersheds thanks state-of-the-art techniques used by TU scientists to map and model suitable habitat.
The scientists aggregated 30 years worth of data on Lahontan cutthroat trout—a threatened species under the ESA—across all 211 streams where Lahontans exist, or historically existed, into a searchable database. They then developed advanced modeling and mapping techniques to 1) evaluate extinction risks for Lahontans in each occupied water; 2) evaluate the benefits of removing non-native trout from these streams; and 3) evaluate the likely success of reintroducing Lahontans into waters where they previously existed.

Importantly, they have developed a population simulator that allows partners with fish and wildlife agencies from Nevada, Oregon and California, the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to see the model results and explore impacts of various management actions in terms of how they decrease extinction risks. An equally broad array of partners is looking to use a similar recovery planning tool under development for Bonneville cutthroat trout and redband trout—two other imperiled native trout species.

The scientists call the new approach the Multiple Population Viability Analysis—MPVA. Its wonky name aside it is a game-changing innovation that will allow state and federal agencies and organizations such as TU to begin to think less about overseeing loss and more about recovering imperiled native trout species across broad landscapes. That is incredibly exciting and in keeping with the fact that conservation is not about overseeing loss. Conservation—the notion that we can take specific actions today to leave our children a healthier world—is the single most affirmative, optimistic idea that America ever gave the rest of the world.

Chris Wood is the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. He lives in Washington, D.C., and works from TU’s Arlington, Va., headquarters.

Read more about Trout Unlimited

What Is the Lahontan Cutthroat?

Bringing Back the Lahontan Cutthroat

By Helen Neville
Senior Scientist, Trout Unlimited
from Griffin Daily News

Do you know this trout?


I think it’s safe to say that rarely in my life have I been inspired performing grant reporting. But in a recent effort to compile progress toward metrics for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Keystone Initiative, which funds much of TU’s work on LCT, I had one of those wonderful “Wow!” moments in seeing—distilled into just a few numbers—what TU has been able to bring to the table for LCT conservation since the Initiative’s inception in 2010.

Back then, NFWF approached me to help develop a “Business Plan” to establish this new funding initiative, because they felt that the federally threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout was one at-risk trout where additional strategic funding could foster collaboration and innovation to help move the needle toward effective conservation (spoiler alert: they were right). I first worked with TU’s Amy Haak to apply the Portfolio approach she and Jack Williams had refined for inland trout to be certain we enveloped important aspects of LCT diversity, and pulled together the primary agency, university and tribal partners involved in LCT management and research to detail threats, goals and strategies for the business plan.

Once the LCT Keystone Initiative was established, I coalesced this group into a steering committee to ensure that proposals under the program hold true to the business plan and match the LCT recovery teams’ priorities. We quickly hit on an efficient and productive model where we, the steering committee, prioritize needs each year and TU writes ‘core grants’ requesting funding for all the needs in one proposal—some of the funding relates to TU’s work while much is given out to partners, but all meets the steering committee’s collective priorities for LCT conservation needs.

When I came to TU in 2006 after having completed my graduate work on LCT, I served on one of four LCT management teams (GMUs/RITs for Geographic Management Unit Teams or Recovery Implementation Teams, depending on the geography) and TU’s relationships with the LCT agencies weren’t always good. In fact, TU had previously threatened to sue over the declining state of the fish. But this collaborative process has since built a tremendous amount of trust and synergy, pushing us all to think creatively on how to get good things done for the fish—because, of course, that is the goal we all agree on.

For instance, a key need that had been identified by the agencies was developing safe harbor agreements with private landowners; these agreements provide legal assurances for landowners that encourage them to allow us to reintroduce Lahontan cutthroats to their lands. One of the steering committee’s first actions, then, was to ask for NFWF support for TU to fund a new position at the Nevada Department of Wildlife for a dedicated Lahontan cutthroat trout safe harbors biologist. The resulting private land agreements have enabled some of our most ambitious recovery work on stream-form LCT (see below).

As another example, we’d often hear from state agencies, “we would love to do that (field project) but don’t have the resources on the ground”. So, we started requesting funding for an annual ‘range-wide field crew,’ with an unusual twist: the crew is hired and run by TU’s LCT Coordinator Jason Barnes (also NFWF-funded), but their work plan is developed by the steering committee partners and they are loaned out to these partners for prioritized work across the entire range of LCT. Since 2013, they’ve worked for all three state agencies managing LCT (Nevada, California, and Oregon), the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe, The Nature Conservancy, the Forest Service, BLM, and TU; they have helped with baseline biological monitoring for safe harbor agreements in 26 streams, sampled LCT populations in 28 streams, assisted with non-native trout removal in 18 streams, monitored habitat in eight creeks, installed stream temperature thermographs in 39 streams, and sampled for non-native trout environmental DNA (eDNA) in nine streams. With NFWF funding, TU’s California and Sportsmen’s Conservation Project staff have also, among other things, run multiple youth Trout Camps in California and Nevada, undertaken a highly collaborative and successful land protection campaign that opened up new Lahontan opportunities, and outreached to thousands of people including students and veterans about LCT. We have funded several LCT displays and “Know Your Natives” day camps at Reno’s Nevada Discovery Center, which serves over 500,000 people a year, helped build barriers to protect several large existing and future metapopulations, and completed and published multiple research projects on LCT – with more in the works – that are guiding conservation planning. We are also now a member of all four LCT Recovery Implementation/Geographic Management Unit teams.

So back to those metrics: what’s the outtake of all this collaboration?

Since 2012, the GMU/RITs have reintroduced LCT to eight historical streams encompassing 65 miles; another 28 miles have been treated and cleared of non-native fish and are waiting for reintroduction/expansion. Because of successful safe harbors agreements, some of these waters include 36 miles of interconnected ‘metapopulation’ habitat, much of which is on private land. We are in the final planning phases for two more metapopulations, which will span 25 and 55 miles each when finished, and we are beginning conversations with key landowners to see if we can’t reconnect two major river basins and join a networked stream system that provides over 100 miles of some of our best LCT habitat.

There’s my “Wow!” moment on what good will, good collaboration, and a lot of hard work can do.

Helen Neville is TU’s senior scientist. She is based in Boise.

Au Sable River

How the Au Sable River Changed the Trout Fishing World
By CASEY WARNER
Michigan Department of Natural Resources
from The Fishing Wire

The Au Sable River is known throughout the country as a premier trout-fishing destination.


With the opener of Michigan’s trout season right around the corner, anglers soon will be donning their waders and heading out to one of the thousands of cold, quality streams that make the state a nationally known trout-fishing destination.

Perhaps the most renowned place to cast a fly in Michigan – the Au Sable River, running 138 miles through the northern Lower Peninsula – is significant for much more than its outstanding trout fishing.

In 1959, 16 fishermen, united by their love of trout and the Au Sable River and concerned about the need for long-term conservation of Michigan’s cold-water streams, gathered at George Griffith’s home east of Grayling.

“For some time I and several others have been considering ways and means to protect and preserve trout and trout fishing, and have come up with the idea of forming an organization to be known as Trout, Unlimited,” wrote Griffith, a member of the Michigan Conservation Commission, in an invitation letter to a fellow angler in 1959.

“Such an organization could work with state and federal agencies now charged with that responsibility … it would help educate the public on the dire need of sound, practical, scientific trout management and regulations to protect the trout as well as satisfy fishermen.”

The sportsmen that responded to Griffith’s invitation to meet at his cabin on the Au Sable believed that better and more scientific habitat management would improve the environment as well as the state’s trout population and fishing.

Nearly 60 years after that initial meeting, the organization those fishermen founded – Trout Unlimited – has become a national champion of fish habitat conservation.

Today, the organization has almost 300,000 members and supporters, with 30 offices nationwide, and sponsors the International Trout Congress.

The Michigan History Museum in Lansing is showcasing Trout Unlimited’s founding on the Au Sable in a special exhibition, “The River that Changed the World,” open through July 29.

“The Au Sable River has influenced – and continues to influence – people around the world,” said Mark Harvey, Michigan’s state archivist and the exhibition’s curator. “The stories in the exhibition demonstrate the innovative and unprecedented ways private citizens and state government worked together to conserve and protect the river and sustainably manage its fish populations.”

Original paneling and artifacts from the Wolverine fish car, which carried millions of fish by rail across Michigan, tell museum visitors the story of efforts to plant trout in the Au Sable.

Fred Westerman, one of the first employees of the Wolverine and former fisheries chief in the Michigan Department of Conservation, forerunner to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, once reported:

“Frequently … thirty cans of fish would be dropped off at some spooky junction – like in the jack pine at Au Sable-Oscoda with the cemetery across the tracks and the depot a mile from town – on the night run of the Detroit & Mackinac, to await the morning train going up the river branch.”

The exhibition also introduces the relationship between the Anishinabe (Odawa and Ojibwe people) and the Au Sable River and explores Grayling as a fishing and tourism hotspot since the mid-19th century.

Harvey said that the idea for the exhibit stemmed from the Michigan History Center’s longstanding relationship with, and eventual donation of materials from, Art Neumann, one of the cofounders of Trout Unlimited and its executive director from 1962 to 1965.

“Instead of just focusing on the Trout Unlimited group, we took a wider view of the river that inspired these people to work for systemic change,” Harvey said.

The exhibition features George Griffith’s 24-foot-long Au Sable river boat and a re-creation of Neumann’s Wanigas Rod Shop, where he made fly rods considered works of art and became known as a champion of conservation.

A “battery” of glass beakers from the Grayling fish hatchery, each of which held thousands of eggs, highlights the late 19th-century work of state conservationists and private citizens who tried to save the Arctic grayling.

An iconic cold-water fish that once dominated northern Michigan streams but was almost extinct by the beginning of the 20th century, Arctic grayling were native only to Michigan and Montana in the lower 48 states.

“When sportsmen first discovered the grayling in the Au Sable, it drew international attention,” Harvey said.

The current Michigan Arctic Grayling Initiative now aims to restore self-sustaining populations of the fish within its historical range in Michigan.

Current DNR Fisheries Chief Jim Dexter applauded the vision and passion of those who recognized the Au Sable’s promise as a premier fishing destination.

“As the name of the exhibit implies, the Au Sable is a world-class fishery resource attracting anglers from every corner of the earth,” Dexter said. “It’s one of the most stable groundwater-influenced watersheds in North America, and produces exceptional trout fishing.

“It wasn’t always that way, though. Without the creation of Trout Unlimited at the Au Sable River, by those who understood the potential of our cold-water resources, Michigan might not be home to one of the world’s greatest trout fisheries.”

Trout Unlimited’s work has also encouraged other groups like the Anglers of the Au Sable, who now lead the charge for preserving this unique, high-quality body of water. Dubbed the “river guardians,” the Anglers group has fought multiple environmental threats to river.

The exhibit and related events also offer opportunities for hands-on experiences.

Visitors can learn how to tie a fly and compare tied flies to real insects under a microscope or sit in a kayak and take a 360-degree virtual reality paddle down the Au Sable.

They can also explore the essence of the Au Sable without leaving mid-Michigan through a series of museum programs revolving around the exhibit.

“While the exhibit focuses on the wonderful stories, images and sounds of the river, we wanted to bring the Au Sable River to the capital region,” said Michigan History Center engagement director Tobi Voigt. “We designed a series of programs highlighting themes from the exhibit – like fly-fishing and kayaking – that can be enjoyed by a variety of age groups. We’re especially excited to showcase a fly-fishing star and host our first-ever kayak tour.”

Programs include a fly-casting workshop with noteworthy fly-tier and fly-fishermen Jeff “Bear” Andrews, a kayak tour on the Red Cedar River, and the Second Saturdays for Families series featuring hands-on activities like making a compass, a sundial or a miniature boat.

To learn more about “A River That Changed the World” and to find Michigan History Museum visitor information, go to www.michigan.gov/museum.

Check out previous “Showcasing the DNR” stories at www.mi.gov/dnrstories. Subscribe to upcoming articles and other DNR publications at the bottom of our webpage at www.mi.gov/dnr.

Can Spawning Fish Influence River Profiles?

Sex that moves mountains: Spawning fish can influence river profiles
By Eric Sorensen, WSU News
from The Fishing Wire

fishPULLMAN, Wash. – It turns out that sex can move mountains.

A Washington State University researcher has found that the mating habits of salmon can alter the profile of stream beds, affecting the evolution of an entire watershed. His study is one of the first to quantitatively show that salmon can influence the shape of the land.

Alex Fremier, lead author of the study and associate professor in the WSU School of the Environment, said female salmon “fluff” soil and gravel on a river bottom as they prepare their nests, or redds. The stream gravel is then more easily removed by flooding, which opens the underlying bedrock to erosion.

“The salmon aren’t just moving sediment,” said Fremier. “They’re changing the character of the stream bed, so when there are floods, the gravel is more mobile.”

Alex Fremier, associate professor at the WSU School of the Environment and author of “Sex that moves mountains” in the journal Geomorphology, with a rainbow trout on Lake Pend Oreille.
The study, “Sex that moves mountains: The influence of spawning fish on river profiles over geologic timescales,” appears in the journal Geomorphology.

Working with colleagues at the University of Idaho and Indiana University, Fremier modeled the changes over 5 million years and saw streams with spawning salmon lowering stream slopes and elevation over time. Land alongside the stream can also get steeper and more prone to erosion.

“Any lowering of the streambed translates upstream to lower the entire landscape,” said Fremier.

Different salmon species can have different effects, Fremier said. Chinook salmon can move bigger pieces of material, while coho tend to move finer material. Over time, this diversification can lead to different erosion rates and changes to the landscape.

The paper is another way of looking at the role of living things in shaping their nonliving surroundings. Trees prevent landslides; beavers build dams that slow water, creating wetlands, flood plains and habitats for different trees and animals.

In 2012, researchers writing in Nature Geoscience described how, before the arrival of trees more than 300 million years ago, landscapes featured broad, shallow rivers and streams with easily eroded banks. But tree roots stabilized river banks and created narrow, fixed channels and vegetated islands, while log jams helped create the formation of new channels. The new landscape in turn led to “an increasingly diverse array of organisms,” the researchers wrote.

Similarly, said Fremier, salmon can be creating new stream habitats that encourage the rise of new salmon species. On the other hand, streams where salmon drop in number or disappear altogether could see significant long-term changes in their profile and ecology.

“The evolution of a watershed can be influenced by the evolution of a species” Fremier said.

Read more like this at Washington State University News here

Horse and Mule Trout Surveying

Fisheries Work by Horse and Mule Trout Surveying
Today’s feature on back-country trout surveying comes to us from Nebraska Game and Parks.
from The Fishing Wire

Sometimes, if you want to get where the fish are, you have to go where other people are not.

Casey Cary leads the packhorse with survey equipment along the south fork of Soldier Creek. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)
Such was the case for fisheries biologists in the Pine Ridge last week, as they recruited the help of a Game and Parks Commissioner, a Wyoming outfitter, and six four-legged friends to study one of Nebraska’s most remote public fishing areas.

With the help of horses and mules owned by Commissioner Rick Brandt of Roca and outfitter Casey Cary of Powell, Wyoming, fisheries staff members Al Hanson and Joe Rydell of Alliance administered a rare sampling of the south fork of Soldier Creek. The cold-water brook is one of three branches of the stream coursing through the Soldier Creek Wilderness Area before it merges to one and flows eastward to Fort Robinson State Park.

Similar to biologists throughout the state this spring, Hanson and Rydell have been persistently surveying fish populations, usually using trucks and motorboats to set and retrieve nets. The samplings help them make determinations about fisheries, such as populations, size and health of the various species swimming throughout the Panhandle. The Commission uses the information to make management decisions and advise anglers of the best fishing spots.

The biologists use a little different approach for cold-water streams, employing electroshocking equipment to stun fish, slowing them down just enough to be netted for study and then released. Many trout streams in Nebraska may be remote, but most of them are accessible by vehicle at least to some extent.

Brandt and Cary secure the load. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)
Because of wilderness area regulations, surveying the headwaters of Soldier Creek’s south fork is a little more challenging. Wilderness areas, each of which are managed by one of four federal land management agencies (in this case, the U.S. Forest Service), have special rules to limit negative impacts from humans and ensure their preservation. The rules allow for no mechanized vehicles, including bicycles, game carts or even trucks driven by fisheries biologists. Horses, however, are permitted, and, for this fisheries project, hooves would have to be involved.

The survey party of four, along with this writer-photographer, rode on the backs of Brandt and Cary’s horses and mules for the seven-mile round trip while a packhorse carried the survey equipment. Included in the panniers and strapped to the saddle were long-handled nets and the electroshocking backpack unit with its wands. The unit, which looks similar to a metal detector, sends a non-lethal charge through nearby surrounding water.

Because of his past ventures by mule, Brandt was in familiar territory as the crew made its way up the creek. The avid horseman who owns a Lincoln excavation company was selected to the Commission’s board last year with a reputation for supporting big game conservation efforts, most notably Nebraska’s bighorn sheep program. He is one of the founding members of the Nebraska Big Game Society, which has provided financial support for many of the Commission’s conservation efforts for wild sheep, elk and mule deer.

Commissioner Rick Brandt of Roca is an avid horseman who loves riding his mules in the Pine Ridge. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)
At least twice a year Brandt rides the northwestern Nebraska backcountry to catch sight of big rams and other Nebraska wildlife. During those trips, he often also takes a gander in the creeks to see what is swimming in their clear waters. This far up the creek, things are usually pretty quiet.

“I never see footprints up this far,” Brandt said, as he was pointing out some of the best spots for trout. “And I’ve seen some big fish up this way.”

Although a glitch in the backpack unit deterred Hanson and Rydell from surveying as much of the creek as they had planned, they were able to learn plenty.

“We found out what we wanted to know,” Hanson said. “We have some really quality brook trout up here. We also have some big browns and big creek chubs.”

In addition to nice fish, they saw some nice scenery in a landscape painted green with spring rains. With occasional sandstone cliffs, ponderosa pine trees and a variety of hardwoods towering above, the south fork meanders over a bed of stones with areas of shallow rapids between deeper slower-moving pools. It’s an advantageous situation if you’re a trout.

Al Hanson watches for stunned fish as Joe Rydell runs the electroshocking equipment. (NEBRASKAland/Justin Haag)
“This is some of our best rubble in the Pine Ridge,” Hanson said, as he watched fish dart through the clear water flowing over well-worn rocks at the creek’s headwaters.

Hanson, a longtime employee of the Commission and now fisheries supervisor for the northwest district, has familiarity with the upper third of the south fork, even if he does not get there as often as he would like to. He remembers using a horse and coolers to pack in fingerling brook trout to the upper end of the south fork in the 1980s and again in 1993. The latter stocking followed the flood of 1991, in which thunderstorm deluged the area with 12 inches of rain and was suspected to be detrimental for the brook trout population.

From last week’s observations, it appears the trout are naturally reproducing in the creek and doing well.

The upper end of the south fork of Soldier Creek may not be the easiest place to access, but few who have been there regret the journey – especially those who get there with the help of some hooves.