Stating The Obvious (From Nevada State Trout Listing)

About Trout: The Best of Robert Behnke from Trout Magazine, by Robert J. Behnke. 272 pages. The Lyons Press (September 1, 2007) Behnke brings scientific expertise, a sense of humor and a flair for drama to this collection of 43 essays previously published as his About Trout column in conservation organization Trout Unlimited’s Trout magazine. Behnke considers the evolution, historic and current distribution, biological characteristics and defining physical traits of various species of trout and salmon-from the common brown trout and well-known Atlantic salmon to the rare Apache trout and the once-presumed extinct, now-endangered Alvord cutthroat trout.

Dr. Behnke correspondence and reply, and ‘comment,’ embedded:

—–Original Message—–
From: joe tomelleri

Sent: Saturday, August 15, 2009 5:14 PM
To: kortumofdiscovery; robert behnke
Subject:Fw: cutthroat trip to ***** Creek

Dave, see below from Dr. Behnke.   Dr. Behnke, we contacted Pat Trotter a month or so ago, and he is gung ho to say the least, and anxious to see the fish for himself.

Best regards,

Joe T.

—– Original Message —–

From: Robert Behnke

To: Daniel Line

Cc: Joe Tomelleri

Sent: Saturday, August 15, 20094:45 PM

Subject: Re: cutthroat trip to ***** Creek

Joe please forward to David Kortum as we don’t have an email address.

In your emails both David and Dan expressed interest for promoting a transplant of ***** Creek trout that phenotypically appear identical to the Alvord trout.  I urged Tim Waters and other ODFW biologists to do this in 2006.  A problem was that Waters previously found 11 perennial, fishless streams draining from Steens Mtn. to the Alvord L. sump (native range of alvordensis), but stocked them with Willow-Whitehorse cutthroat.  As I had written, the ODFW records show stocking of ***** Creek began in 1959 and for several years, hatchery rainbows, Willow-Whitehorse, and Lahontan (probably Heenan L. stock) were stocked.  A personal account of catching trout in ***** Crk. ca. 1946-47, verified trout were there before stocking occurred.  No doubt ***** Crk. had no native trout.  The basin is completely isolated from the Catlow basin and invasion by the Catlow redband trout.  Trout Crk. (Alvord trout) would have been the most likely source of the original transplant and the occurrence of the Alvord phenotype found today in ***** Crk. (as seen in photos).  ODF stocking, most likely consisted of fry or fingerlings that had very low survival.  I assume, however, that some hybridization occurred to explain the variation in spotting among ***** Crk. specimens.  The goal would be to transplant specimens that duplicate the Alvord spotting pattern to start a new population, even though these trout would not be genetically completely pure.  I use the “duck analogy” (see pg. 33 in my book, About Trout).  To drum up interest for this worthy project, contact Pat Trotter, Washington Trout, Oregon Trout, the Native Trout Initiative, etc.  I hope your efforts will be successful.

Bob Behnke

(August 5. 2009)

Two of Dr. Behnke's recent books

Dr. Behnke,

Hi, my name is David Kortum.  My wife, Carmela, and I have for quite a few years been keenly interested in pursuing (catch and release) rare trout, particularly in the Northern Great Basin. Some years ago, we became conversationally acquainted with Joseph Tomelleri, as we secured permission to utilize one of his illustrations for a letter to ODFW biologists.  During that time, we shared with Joe some of the areas we had been hoping to find potential Alvord cutthroat remnants, and he shared a few of his thoughts with us.  We’d been to the head waters of the Trout Creek system, had checked out other potentially viable systems (though we’ve since found some of these systems to be on private lands that are essentially not accessible, and some seemingly unpopulated).

Subsequent to your identification of the Alvord phenotype in ***** Creek and publishing of the experience, we began planning for a foray into the ***** Basin — though our 2007 summer calendar was already filled with planned Redband activities.  In May 2008, we set out for a long weekend in the Trout Creek Mountains, Pueblo Mountains and ***** Basin; though the exceptionally wet spring rendered many roads impassable.  By early July that summer we were able to fish the upper reaches of ***** Creek, and then later in July we visited the system again, and fished some of the lower regions as well.  We caught many trout and took many photographs that year, some of which were shared with Joe.

There was remarkable genetic diversity within the system.  Some seemed to be Willow-Whitehorse cutts, others  more typical of stream form Lahontans.  Some also had many fine speckles with a bright crimson streak through the lateral line and fiery red cutt marks.  Finally, there were a few that were best, or could only be, defined as Alvord phenotypes.  We were thrilled to have experienced in part the excitement that you must have felt in 2006, when you held an ancient trout strain in your hands — not wholly lost to antiquity as had been feared.

We’ve noted that the State of Oregon seems convinced that ***** Creek is, or should be, a redband system.  Simply looking at the geography, we are led to conclude that there are many reasons to question that assessment.  It seems there are more distinctions than similarities — between the Catlow Valley Chui Chub and the ***** (Sheldon) Tui Chub.  In the very lower reaches (below Jacob’s Reservoir) we have caught rainbow family trout — and though our sense is that these trout were introduced to ***** Creek (not native), it is perhaps impossible to know their ancestry apart from genetic testing.  Early in May of this year, in preparation for more SE Oregon trips, we touched base with Joe Tomelleri again.  Since there is some interest in genetic verification of these & other great basin trout, Joe forwarded some of our previous communication and photographs to Rick Mayden (St. Louis University). SLU has a fully funded genome project underway, focused on redband of theGreat Basin (essentially in relation to the Truchas Mexicanas) . . . . It seems unlikely that this will have significance regarding the cutts in ***** Creek, but they are aware that the trout diversity there is quite unusual and unique.  We understand from your books, that genetic confirmation is not necessarily a prerequisite for preservation of the Alvord phenotype.  Our thought (from observation) is that some of these trout do not seem to indicate introgression with redband trout so much as introgression with other (more closely related) cutthroat strains.   (Though there are speckled trout with bright crimson lateral lines and fiery cutt marks that may best be explained by hybridization with McCloud Redbands (?) and there are some trout in the system that do not seem to lend themselves to easy identification.)

Our hope is that for some of the more promising phenotypes, if any introgression is primarily with other cutts (rather than with redbands); this could perhaps be a positive — in that the seemingly dominant Alvord genes / types may have a better chance to be preserved and sustained when they are successfully transplanted into a suitable uninhabited system that will sustain them and hopefully enable them to flourish.  Early this year we hiked into a different stretch of the system, and again obtained quite an array of trout to photograph.  Subsequent trips in July enabled us to hone in on an area that certainly seems to present the strongest concentration of Alvord phenotypes that we have seen to date (a few of these photographs are attached for your review).  Some were shared with Tim Walters (ODFW Biologist for SE Oregon).  Tim mentioned that he’d had a discussion with you, at length, regarding the prospect of transporting Alvord phenotypes into a suitable location here in Oregon.  In 2008 Tim sent various trout samples from ***** Creek to Mary Peacock at University of Nevada, Reno, for genetic analysis. Unfortunately, she did not initially receive indication to test the ***** samples for Alvord genome (but apparently was looking for Lahontan/redband verification).  Later Tim did re-communicate with her, clarifying the desire to look for the Alvord Genome in the 2008 samples. The last word from Tim was that she was pursuing the possiblity of a genetic baseline (‘86 Virgin Creek samples?) to facilitate such analysis.  (These samples were taken at **** Meadows, which is by our experience not necessarily the best site for Alvord phenotype mix: though based on trout movement through the system – there are times that the phenotype is well represented in the meadows.)

Tim also indicated that it should not be too difficult to secure funding via the Western Native Trout Initiative for a project to capture and transplant optimal Alvord phenotypes into an unpopulated but suitable stream.  However, he also mentioned that he has taken a promotion within ODFW and will be relocating to Roseburg in about a month.  (Perhaps, then, it would seem sensible to reiterate the history of your 2006 findings with the new biologist, and to share recent photographs of Alvord phenotypes with the new biologist for SE Oregon . . . as soon as practical and reasonable to do so.)

Patrick Trotter also recently contacted us regarding some of the more promising photos of what would certainly appear to be Alvord Cutthroat Trout from *****.  He seems to not only be looking forward to seeing first hand some of these beautiful “ghosts” from the past, but he may be willing to assist in gauging meristic characteristics or other details that would help facilitate the prospect of restoration of this “extinct” species…

… You possess the experience and the influence that may help catalyze positive activity for these Alvord phenotypes, and you are uniquely familiar with the Hubbs collection and are fully acquainted with the meristic characteristics of the species.

It does seem to us that a restoration project is perhaps now timely. There is some greater awareness of the trout based in part on the blogging activity of Gary and Scott (though a concern may be that they are also in essence advertising the presence of “Alvords” in ***** Creek — perhaps unwittingly encouraging traffic on a system that may hardly be suited for a handful of anglers annually.  Even catch and release yields incidental losses… and there may be hardly sufficient phenotypes to secure a small population for a hopeful restoration into a new home.  [It is perhaps even a bit miraculous that these still remain!])

We would truly like to see the future of the Alvord phenotype assured, before genetic or other pressures remove that possibility. Therefore our correspondence is in part to share these photographs with you — and to inquire regarding your thoughts as to how to best catalyze action from ODFW to secure a timely preservation plan for these perseverant, yet circumstantially frail, trout.

It seems that the complexities of day-to-day responsibilities for our field biologists tend to inhibit the fairly spontaneous action that should be called for in a situation such as with these Alvord phenotypes in ***** Creek. No doubt, some thought and wisdom needs to be exercised to identify a truly suitable system to introduce these rare trout into.  Yet it also seems that a “time clock” for this opportunity may be “winding down.”  If a collaborative effort would be helpful in submitting a grant request to WNTI (or any suitable source that you might recommend); we would be willing to assist as a component of that request process.  And we would be willing to contribute our labor toward riparian zone or creek bed restoration, or in whatever manner might be of genuine assistance, to help see an Alvord phenotype restoration project through to positive fruition.

If Oregon were to successfully restore the Alvord phenotype (if not genotype) into a healthy self-sustaining system (or two or three etc.): what an awesome victory it would be for the state and for fishermen and environmentalists and nature lovers everywhere!

One can’t imagine a more positive victory for Oregon, that to be able to assert that an “extinct” species was preserved and ultimately restored through genuine cooperative effort . . .

We anticipate your thoughts and input regarding how to best encourage and catalyze activity on the part of ODFW to achieve your suggested introduction of the Alvord phenotype into a safe haven to preserve their heritage.  Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and provide your sense regarding the handful of photographic samples bedded below. (The more promising phenotype photos were GPS recorded, and an annotated map has been created to provide an overview of the phenotype locations.)


David & Carmela Kortum

Female Alvord Phenotype
Male Alvord PhenotypeAlvord Phenotype Close-upACT-P Matching Hubbs' Descriptors in Net
All in all, there are quite a few more photos; some with Alvordish indications, many with Lahontan (including Whitehorse/Willow Creek) characteristics, some that may indicate McCloud redband introgression, and some that seem to fully resist identification.   Of course, our primary goal is the hopeful verification of the presence of suitable Alvord phenotypes for reintroduction, restoration and preservation.We look forward to your input; and thank you for your many years of dedicated service to the native trout of North America, and for your contributions benefiting sportsmen and conservationists throughout the world.


About kortumofdiscovery

Kortum of Discovery (a slight play on Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery) is a family team that is Affirming the Exceptional Beauty of Nature, one Adventure at a Time. With a focus toward rare and endangered species in the Great Basin and American west: discoveries, unique methodologies, and many “tall tales to tell” are continually being shared around the campfire!
This entry was posted in Photo Journals, The Word is Out. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Stating The Obvious (From Nevada State Trout Listing)

  1. Kortum says:

    Why would the editor say "once-presumed extinct, now-endangered Alvord cutthroat trout" unless Dr. Behnke’s identification of Alvord Cutthroat Trout from Virgin Creek – AND from ***** Creek is considered authoritative… and the editor fully expected that the controlling agencies would be about the task of preserving, protecting and ultimately restoring the "now-endangered" Alvord cutthroat?

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