An Appeal for Action

Early correspondence, proposal, and subsequent posts from March and April, 2010
—–Original Message—–
From: Shannon Hurn
Sent: Wednesday, April 28, 2010 9:09 AM
To: David Kortum
Subject: RE: ***** Creek

Hello Carmela and Dave Kortum,

I apologize for the delay in getting back to you. I have not come up with any new information beyond what you’d provided, although I attached a new write-up Dr. Behnke sent following ODFW’s correspondence with him in late February. I am still trying to contact Mary Peacock about genetic samples from ***** Creek Tim Walters sent in a few years back, although this seems to be a somewhat difficult endeavor, and not essential to us moving forward on this project.

I would like to talk to you about scheduling a sampling event out at ***** Creek this summer and possible plans for introducing fish from ***** Creek that express theAlvord CTphenotype into a currently fishless stream elsewhere in the Alvord basin.

Is there a convenient time to contact you by phone?  I am available today, tomorrow afternoon, and Friday afternoon. Additionally I could call you on a weekend or in the evenings if 8-5 during the week is not optimal for you.

Thank you again for your interest and I look forward to talking with you.

Shannon M. Hurn, District Fish Biologist, Malheur Watershed District

ODFW - Shannon Hurn

From: Carmela Kortum
Sent: Thursday, March 11, 2010 9:58 AM
To: shannon.m.hurn
Subject: RE: ***** Creek


Hello! Dave and I are just checking in to see how your research is going regarding the trout in ***** Creek? A couple other fishermen with whom we are acquainted have been wondering if there has been any further progress regarding a restoration project for the trout exhibiting the Alvord phenotype in ***** Creek.

With spring on its way, Dave and I are planning several fishing adventures to the area as soon as time and weather permit. We love the high desert country and its streams!

Have you had a chance to see the other material and pictures on the Windows Live account? We hope it is useful. We are looking forward to hearing from you regarding the results of your research and field planning for the summer. It must be exciting to take on new territories and responsibilities!

Let us know how if there is any way we can be of further assistance.


Carmela & Dave Kortum

From: Shannon Hurn
Wednesday, February 03, 20109:29 AM

To: David & Carmela Kortum
Subject: RE: Project Proposal: Restoration of Alvord cutthroat phenotype from ***** Creek

Hello David and Carmela,

Thank you for your interest in working to preserve Alvord Lahontan cutthroat trout in ***** Creek. I appreciate your thorough and well thought out work plan.  I am now in the process of researching this issue and further educating myself on the status of Lahontan cutthroat trout in the ****** Creeks you mentioned. I will speak with Tim Walters in regards to his previous plans.  Additionally, I am familiar with Dr. Behnke’s work and efforts in the Great Basin for redband trout, and look forward to hearing more about his work/theories regarding Lahontan Cutthroat trout in my new district.

Winter is always a great time for literature research and field planning. Thanks again for your concern and interest, I will be in touch shortly.

Shannon M. Hurn, District Fish Biologist, Malheur Watershed District

ODFW-Shannon Hurn

Proposed Grant-Supported Project—–

Preserve/Restore the Alvord Cutthroat Trout Phenotype

as Expressed in ***** Creek.

Sampling & Genetic Testing of Trout Populations

Shannon M. Hurn,


Part I.  Sampling & Genetic Testing of Trout Populations


For quite a few years we (Dave & Carm Kortum) have been keenly interested in pursuing (catch and release) rare trout, particularly in the Northern Great Basin.  Although we have caught many different redband sub-species, and a few rare cutthroat sub-species, a strong hope has been that a remnant of the Alvord cutthroat trout would be found in some remote stream.

We are acquainted with Joseph Tomelleri, biologist and fish illustrator, and have shared with Joe some of the areas we hoped Alvord cutthroat remnants could be found.  Likewise, Joe has shared a few of his thoughts with us.  We have been to the headwaters of the Trout Creek system and have searched for other viable systems, including ***** Creek.

Recently our focus has been on **** Creek, because not only is this creek and it’s habitat fascinating, but the trout are unique.  Although considered by some to be a redband trout stream, our experience is that the creek contains primarily cutthroat trout, many with distinct appearance.  Indeed some of the trout exhibit the phenotype of the extinct Alvord cutthroat trout.

Of course, we were not the first to notice the Alvord-like appearance of these trout.  Dr. Robert Behnke made a trip to ***** Creek in 2006 and quickly identified the Alvord phenotype’s existence in the creek.  Tim Walters and other ODFW personnel facilitated this trip.  Dr. Behnke published his experience in Trout.  Because of Dr. Behnke’s article, we determined to focus on ***** Creek.

Over the past two years we have made numerous trips and caught many trout from various sections of ***** Creek.  We have shared photographs of what we have found with Joe Tomelleri, and Tim Walters – the previous ODFW biologist for the region. Through our communications with Joe and Tim, and their contacts, the circle of interest in these trout has broadened.  Others have become interested and involved with the identification of the trout in ***** Creek, sparking the hope of a preservation program.

In 2008, Tim Walters sent some fin-clip samples to Mary Peacock, genetics biologist at the University ofNevada, Reno.  Originally the prospect of Alvord genetics was not discussed, but shortly before he left as the regional biologist he requested Mary to look further into the possibility of alvordensis presence.  That testing is still on the burner, and Mary has expressed an interest in testing future samples (perhaps a greater specimen population) should a project be initiated.

Since there has been growing interest in genetic verification of these and other Great Basin trout, Joe Tomelleri forwarded some of our communications and photographs to biologist Richard Mayden, of St. Louis University.  SLU has a fully funded genome project underway, focused on redband of the Great Basin.

Although SLU’s focus has been oriented around redband trout, they expressed interest and support in genetically testing the ***** Creek trout exhibiting the Alvord phenotype. The hope is that genetic testing will indicate that the trout with the Alvord phenotype do indeed have Alvord genes present and that these trout can be separated, protected and utilized in a restoration program.

We have written Dr. Robert Behnke, asking for advice on how to catalyze a preservation/restoration project.  He indicated that a project to restore the Alvord phenotype would be a worthy project. He recommended that we contact Pat Trotter, Washington Trout, Oregon Trout, the Native Trout Initiative, etc. to drum up interest. He suggested that the goal should be to transplant specimens that duplicate the Alvord spotting pattern elsewhere, to start a new population, even though the trout may not be genetically completely pure.  He looks forward to such a project being successful.

During this time, Joe Tomelleri forwarded our pictures and correspondence relating to the ***** Creek trout to Patrick Trotter.  Last September, we went to ***** Creek with Patrick.  He observed the Alvord Phenotype first hand.  Patrick has offered his advice and assistance, and has encouraged us to write to you regarding initiating a project.  There are other trout enthusiasts interested in the preservation of these trout as well, who would also willingly give their support.

Based on our experience with the more promising Alvord phenotypes, any introgression would seem to be primarily with other cutthroat species (rather than with redbands).  Perhaps this could 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 enable them to flourish.

Tim Walters indicated that it should not be too difficult to secure funding from the Western Native Trout Initiative for a project to capture and transplant optimal Alvord phenotypes into an unpopulated but suitable stream (or suitable hatchery).

A restoration project is perhaps now timely.  No doubt, there is notable genetic pressure toward hybridization on the Alvord phenotypes.  We would truly like to see the future of the Alvord phenotype assured before genetic or other pressures remove that possibility.

The remnant population of trout that exhibit the exact Alvord phenotype (as described by Hubbs and Miller) are in a minority status—perhaps even in a precarious condition.  For that reason, there are precautions or safeguards that we would recommend to absolutely minimize mortality of specimens secured.

We would gladly be of assistance in locating and securing optimal phenotypes for this project.  We (and no doubt other groups) would also willingly contribute our labor toward riparian zone and creek bed restoration/improvement, of potential restoration sites, to help see an Alvord phenotype restoration project through to positive fruition.

If Oregon can successfully restore the Alvord phenotype (if not genotype) into a healthy self-sustaining system (or systems): what an awesome victory it would be for the state and for fishermen, environmentalists and nature lovers everywhere!  One can’t imagine a more positive victory for Oregon than to announce that an “extinct” species was restored and preserved through genuine cooperative effort!

Part I (Proposed Action)

Various Suggestions are as follows:

Though Dr. Robert Behnke and Patrick Trotter are of the opinion that genetic confirmation is not a prerequisite to preserving the phenotype, Patrick Trotter believes; that additional work should be done in regards to both DNA and meristic characters in order to ascertain whether the putative Alvords of ***** Creek share any of the original Alvord characteristics beyond the spotting phenotype.  Using the spotting patterns (see attached diagram by Patrick Trotter) as the field criterion for selection, non-lethal fin clips (adipose fins recommended by Patrick) should be collected and sent to Mary Peacock and Rick Mayden (or Peter Unmack) for (Mt) DNA analysis and comparison with known cutthroat types as well as the Virgin Creek Alvord samples for any clues they could provide.

Mary Peacock has indicated that there are no diagnostic genetic markers for Alvord cutthroat. The few museum samples from 1934 and 1985 are too small to characterize an entire subspecies, at least at the nuclear markers that she uses. It is possible to use mitochondrial DNA; however depending on how the samples were preserved, a lab may or may not be successful in recovering sufficient DNA to analyze mitochondrial DNA.

Mary Peacock suggested looking at the known hybrid samples and running 30-40 nuclear markers on the fish to see if they separate out genetically from both rainbow and other cutthroat trout, but this would take some time. Because the museum specimen population is so small, she indicated one would be on sketchy ground to make any kind of definitive statement based on the small sampling available.

Regarding the trout specifically in ***** Creek, Mary indicated that she has genotyped a number of samples (sent by Tim Walters, previous ODFW Biologist) at approximately 20 nuclear microsatellites.  Although the trout were not appreciably different from Lahontan cutthroat trout, as of this date she has not done a more detailed look at the samples in order to look for any unique allelic variants.  She hopes to do this in the future as time and circumstance permit.

Her suggestion is to take a larger sample of 50-60 fin clips from the trout in ***** Creek in order to make the analysis more robust.  Mary believes it would be a very good idea to run a whole suite of nuclear genetic markers for cutthroat trout.

With this suggestion in mind, a careful sampling of 50-60fin clips could be collected from ***** Creek trout that exhibit the Alvord-like spotting patterns as outlined by Patrick Trotter in his diagram; and that these fin-clips be sent to both Mary Peacock and Rick Mayden (or Peter Unmack) for DNA analysis and comparison with Lahontan, Willow-Whitehorse, and other cutthroat subspecies.

Currently the locations of spawning areas for trout in ***** Creek are unknown.  Due to the potential effects of electro-shocking on the mortality and growth rate of juvenile fish, we recommend that electro-shocking not be used to sample or retain trout from ***** Creek.

Furthermore, due to the unusual habitat (high stream-side grasses) and nature of the stream, retrieving mature electro-shocked trout could be difficult.  Again, the effects on juvenile trout in this environment would not be known. Collection of both fin clip samples and specimens would best be accomplished via line caught trout with small barbless lures and ready fish buckets.

Patrick Trotter suggests that a very limited number of trout of the Alvord spotting phenotype could also be collected for voucher specimens—for analysis of certain meristic characters (gill raker counts, pyloric caeca counts, and scales in the lateral series that best distinguish Alvords from the others).

However, voucher specimens and meristic character work requires sacrificing and preserving fish.  Our experience is that the number of ideally representative alvordensis may be so few—perhaps only about one in twenty—that we would concur with the sentiment expressed by Dr. Behnke regarding the alvordensis located in Virgin Creek (1985):  From About TroutPg. 54 — “Pure specimens must be recognized live, in the field.  For verification of purity, the specimens must be killed.  Thus, a large element of doubt will remain in regard to the purity of any transplanted fish.  A transplant must be made and a new population established; only then can the offspring of the parent stock be critically analyzed to evaluate the success of preserving the Alvord cutthroat in its pure form.”

However, plans could be made to set up for and perform harmless creek side meristic analysis.  Via a field aquarium, with high resolution digital photography, we believe meaningfully accurate scale counts may be ascertainable in the field.  Thiswouldbeanadditional aide in determining the best specimens for relocation.

Brief Review and Summary of Part 1:

1) The trout expressing the Alvord phenotype are in a serious minority status.

2) The separation & protectionof the remnant phenotype should be a priority.

3) The ***** phenotypes found indicate a cutthroat centric view is needed.

4) If ideal habitat is not readily available to relocate*****specimens, surely a facility exists for isolation/protection of the most promising phenotypes.

5) Genetic/meristic analysis will be beneficial to validate/verify the results.

Regardless of any genetic testing, we should follow Dr. Behnke’s original assertion that if it looks like a duck and acts like a duck it is a duck.  Whether the genes prove anything or not, the trout with the Alvord like spotting patterns should be isolated and preserved as a unique trout and the only closest remaining trout to the Alvord trout.

Copeia, 1991 #3 Pg. 854 “Behnke (1986) analyzed meristic characters of fish from Virgin Creek and stated that ‘a few of the oldest fish remain pure (cutthroat trout).’   However, meristic characters can be influenced by environmental effects and may not reflect influences caused by introgressive hybridization (Greenfield and Greenfield, 1972: Leary et all., 1984; Camton, 1987).”


Part II (Suggested Future Expansion)

A hatchery program, based on the rescued and secured Alvord specimens should be designed and implemented.

ODFW would collect and transfer rescued Alvord specimens from the secure location(s) they have been established in—perhaps eventually even returning them to Trout Creek, Oregon or upper Virgin Creek, Nevada after suitable treatment to remove non-native trout (ODFW might even consider replacing the present hatchery Lahontan CT stock in Mann Lake with this Alvord phenotype as a way to keep anglers happy and on-board with this project).

Late Summer Female

Alvord cutthroat trout by Joseph Tomelleri

Classic Alvord Phenotype

—–Original Message—–

From: David & Carmela Kortum
Sent: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 11:38 PM
To: ‘Shannon M. Hurn’
Subject: RE: Project Proposal: Restoration of Alvord cutthroat phenotype from ***** Creek


We hope that this email finds all well in your neck of the woods . . .  And, thank you for the reply to our email.

In an effort to share with you more detail that might be of interest—and may bring additional perspective regarding ***** Creek and the trout in it—a bit of history is included in this email.

The how and why that so many, and such variety, of cutthroat trout would be prevalent in the creek may pose a bit of a mystery… though a few clues may present themselves along the way.

Dr. Behnke concluded that ***** Creek would have been too high (well above the pluvial lakes in the ***** Valley) to have contained trout.

From a naturalistic approach, it may be that there would have been challenges to the upward movement of redbands into the ***** system.

Or, since *****Lakewas miles south of the current outlet toward the ****** Valley, and ancientLake Meinser(one of the highest of the ancient pluvial lakes) could have overflowed into ***** Basin (and perhaps then on through other basins).  One might ask what ancient fish may have inhabited this ancient lake…  There is a large petroglyph of what has been described as a “salmonid” in the southern extreme of the ***** Basin (Nevada).

The Sheldon Tui Chub has been located in ***** Creek, ****** Creek and ******* Creek to the south: and at least one credentialed ichthyologist has stated the Sheldon Tui Chub is absolutely different than the Catlow variety.  (This mentioned because a remarkable corresponding specificity of classification has been noted among native tui chubs [and other cypriniformes] and the native cutthroat trout that inhabit a given region.)

But, of course, a naturalistic explanation alone cannot account for all of the diversity in the system.  The State of Oregon does have some records of stocking in ***** Creek.  At one time or another, there were mykiss (perhaps both irideus and stonei) introduced; and cutthroats of the henshawi and humboldtensis strains are also accounted for (in the 1950’s and 60’s).

Yet there certainly seems to be more than just some redbands and Lahontan cutts in the system… And there are records of locals catching trout in ***** Creek before any state recorded stocking took place!

This is where the history becomes interesting . . .

In the 1860’s a young Lt. Col. C. S. Drew commented in official reports of the astonishing numbers of “mountain trout” in the lower levels of Trout Creek (from the Trout Creek Mountains), where the creek was “about to sink into the sands.”  The picture is that of trout teeming in the waters, perhaps washed downs with flooding torrents, and then furiously fighting to move back upstream.

The reason this has potential importance is twofold: In those days the military had a camp on Trout Creek, and with Lt. Col. Drew’s assistance the military moved to suppress the marauding Snake and Paiute Indians in the region.  Col. Drew traveled extensively throughout the region, and also helped establish outposts and forts…   Eventually a General Crook would come to SE Oregonto command the troops in the wars against the tribes.  The General’s reputation as an avid sportsman—even fly-fisherman—preceded him.   History reports that he was fly-fishing near what is now the Wyoming border, when Custer fought his last stand.

For an expanse of over a year, a fort was established on upper ***** Creek near **** Meadows.  Drew gave ***** Creek its name, as the lake at the south end of the valley was so mired when he encountered it, that he said it was like unto “*****.”  The military post at Trout Creek was a common “stop over.”  Even wounded and the ill from the ***** Basin were taken to the Trout Creek camp for medical attention.

Drew specifically noted the trout in Trout Creek (which would have to be pure Oncorhynchus clarki alvordensis at the time—though not yet known by that name). Considering what a dogged fishing enthusiast General Crook was, it would not have been as remarkable (as it may seem) for the troops to move trout from one outpost, to the creek at the fort, in preparation for General Crook’s arrival.

General Crook was quickly disenchanted with the fort—stating something to the effect that the meadows were an insect infested marsh… (We can testify from experience that if General Crook was there during the occasion of a notable no-see-um hatch, it can be horrifying.)   But—one would have to ask—why was he concerned about the “meadows” when the fort was up on the hillside?  Was he “checking-out” the creek for sport?  Within a few months of General Crook’s arrival, the fort was re-established in the Warner Basin—near Honey Creek.

“Part Two” of the history comes with David L. Shirk.  David Shirk led a colorful life as one of the first cattle barons in Oregon—ranching and ultimately moving from Home Creek, on the West side of the Steens to the ***** Basin—where his ranch and home life were established.  (He’d killed one of Peter French’s men in a gunfight… range wars and feuds were real, as well as Indian fights.)  Interestingly, David Shirk had also camped at the Trout Creek camp—many a time—and also provided cattle to Silver City, and ultimately to the end of the rail spur.  In the 1880’s and on, near the height of his activity, it was common for the railroads to dedicate cars for fish transport.  Buckets of fry were actually handed out at stops along the way.  With the reservoirs and waterway improvements in the ***** system built by David Shirk, it again is not extraordinary that a man of his means and dynamic energy would avail every opportunity to transport fish to his home and ranch creek.

There may also be more history and mystery to this unusual creek and system… but regardless of how the trout got there, the reality is that there are extraordinary cutthroat trout in this creek.  Some seem to unmistakably carry the phenotype of the “extinct” Alvord cutthroat trout.  Dr. Behnke’s work and comments regarding this highly unique and remarkably unusual situation reference some of these possibilities (along with the historical reference of the transplant of trout from Trout Creek to the basin westward of the Alvord).

Thank you again Shannon, for your reply and for the willingness to investigate and learn about the plight of the Alvord cutthroat trout, and what may be the last, perhaps only, hope for a revival or restoration of this sub-species.

Dr. Behnke’s book About Trout and Patrick Trotter’s Cutthroat, Native Trout of the West briefly reference this unique trout in ***** Creek, and there is some correspondence from them contained in the Windows Live page.

We’ll look forward to chatting with you again in the near future.


David and Carmela Kortum

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 Fisheries Biology and Genetics, Progress - Reply - Response - Status. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s