As the five year anniversary of Dr. Behnke’s affirmation of finding a living remnant of alvordensis (phenotypical Alvord Cutthroat Trout) in ***** Creek approaches, it seems fitting to review some of his thoughts regarding this remnant of phenotypical Alvord Cutthroat Trout and the prospect of reviving a contemporary version of alvordensis.
Trout Magazine, winter 2007, in an article entitled Toward Definitiveness Dr. Behnke notes that ***** Creek basin was above the maximum Pleistocene lake level of it’s adjacent basin, and that he doubted that it ever held native trout. He expected trout introduced by ODFW to have generated a mixture of hybrids, however, during a 2006 electrofishing project he was pleased to find that all of the trout examined seemed to be of the Lahontan strain; with some trout exhibiting the appearance (phenotype) of the Alvord Cutthroat Trout. In a fall 2005 issue of Trout, in an article entitled Ivory-Billed Trout, Dr. Behnke had speculated that the “extinct” Alvord Cutthroat Trout had been transplanted to ***** Creek from Trout Creek of the Alvord Basin sometime prior to the 1928 introduction of rainbows into Trout Creek.
From Redband Trout Resilience and Challenge in a Changing Landscape published by the Oregon Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, Corvallis, Oregon, 2007—Dr. Behnke comments:
“Hubbs and Miller (1948) pointed out the considerable isolation between the ***** and Catlow basins. They reproduced a photograph of a channel cut through lava, indicating that glacial Lake ***** drained northward to the Catlow Basin, but this connection was probably of an earlier (mid-Pleistocene) connection. An endemic subspecies of chub is the only known fish native to the ***** Basin. Evidently, the Catlow redband trout never had access to the ***** Basin. The headwaters of ***** Creek maintains high quality trout habitat. Stocking records of ODFW indicate that Lahontan cutthroat trout O. c. henshawi from Willow Creek of the Whitehorse (or Coyote Lake) Basin were released in ***** Creek in 1957, followed by more Lahontan cutthroat (probably of Heenan Lake, California origin) in 1969, 1973, 1976, and 1978. Rainbow trout were stocked in ***** Creek in 1957, 1962, 1963, 1964, and 1969. I expected to find a hybrid swarm in ***** Creek when I visited the stream in 2006 with ODFW biologists. I was surprised to find that of the many specimens I examined in the field, none was an obvious hybrid. Variation in spotting patterns indicated that the present population was derived from different parental sources, but an influence from rainbow trout was not obvious in the external appearance of the ***** Creek fish. This suggests to me that a form of Lahontan cutthroat trout was already well established in ***** Creek before the first recorded stocking in 1957. In their discussion of the Catlow Basin, Hubbs and Miller (1948) mention “local testimony” (probably from 1939) of a transplant of Alvord cutthroat trout O. c. alvordensis from Trout Creek. Because all of the streams in the Catlow Basin contained native redband trout, troutless ***** Creek most likely would have been the stream where Alvord cutthroat were transplanted. Such a transplant would have occurred prior to about 1928, when rainbow trout were stocked into Trout Creek and hybridized the Alvord cutthroat out of existence. I contacted historian Bruce Gilinsky, who has studied the history of this area, concerning the presence of trout in ***** Creek before 1957. Mr. Gilinsky recalled that as a boy, he and his grandfather camped at the headwaters of ***** Creek soon after WW II (ca. 1946–1947) and they caught trout. I believe there is a strong possibility that the trout caught by Mr. Gilinsky were derived from an early transplant of the now extinct Alvord cutthroat. If so, what remains of the Alvord subspecies is incorporated into the trout now found in ***** Creek.”
In a letter written to native trout enthusiasts in August 2009, Dr. Behnke relates: “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 Walters and other ODFW biologists to do this in 2006. A problem was that Walters 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.”
And finally, a summary from a Dr. Behnke letter, written for ODFW personnel in 2010 — Additional Alvord Re-Introduction Thoughts Behnke, 2-12-2010: Alvord More
“The best advice I can give I borrow from Peter Larkin’s keynote address to AFS many years ago: “Simplify, simplify, simplify”. The goal is to create a population of trout phenotypically representative of the extinct alvordensis by selecting specimens from ***** Creek that most closely resemble alvordensis. These would be transplanted into presently fishless waters. If all of the proposed actions, especially “genetic testing”, were attempted to be carried out with all of the associated planning and funding, I doubt the goal will ever be attained. It’s human nature to put off until tomorrow what could and should be done today. Accept that ***** Creek trout are not pure, but retain the hereditary basis to phenotypically duplicate alvordensis. What can more and more genetic analysis tell us except that the present population is most likely the product of more than one parental population? Most agency biologists and administrators have little more understanding than the general public about the advantages and limitations of different genetic techniques as they apply to specific situations. Especially there is confusion and misunderstanding regarding the terms, “certainty, proof, and science”. Attached are my comments on this matter concerning genetic misidentification of greenback cutthroat in Utah. Anyone suggesting “genetic research” should make this based on knowledge, not on a naïve faith in a subject matter of which they have little or no understanding. They should be able to frame “testable hypotheses” and how they would be tested. The latest issue of TAFS: 139(1): 201-213, has an article on hybridization of redband trout based on “SNP”s. What is a SNP? What situations should it be more informative than microsattelites? The point is that “genetic research” can go on indefinitely because new techniques are continually being developed. Genetic and other proposals to better characterize the ***** Creek trout can be done after a transplant is made. There are no logical reasons that they should be a pre-requisite for a transplant. Selection during spawning- taking has created phenotypic duplicates of Lahontan cutthroat in Heenan Lake, CA and of Yellowstone cutts in Henrys Lake, ID. In both examples, a small degree of rainbow trout hybridization persists, but is not phenotypically expressed (looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, walks like a duck—call it a duck even if at the molecular level it may not be 100 percent pure duck). I would not be concerned about impacts to the ***** Creek population from activities such as electrofishing. In 2006 a 100 foot section in Post Meadow was shocked and produced 28 trout from 100 to 220 mm. The surface area of the sampled section was no more than 0.01 acre and the biomass would have been more than 500 lb. per acre—a very robust population. I reiterate what I have previously written—***** Creek did not have redband trout. The overflow connection from the ***** basin to the Catlow basin occurred during an earlier period of Pleistocene before redband trout were in the Catlow basin. Any O. mykiss DNA in ***** trout would be from the stocking of hatchery (coastal) rainbow in 1957, 1962, 1963, 1964, and 1969. Bob
No doubt, via many private conversations and correspondence, much more has been said. Yet it remains to be seen what the outcome of these communications will be. As with almost everything in life, to a great extent the outcome for this phenotypical remnant of alvordensis will be a matter of will. The willingness of the agencies to act. The willingness of native trout enthusiasts to communicate with these agencies and the willingness to carry through with actual support—physical, financial, moral. The willingness to care in the ultimate sense; realizing all a successful project will mean in the annals of native trout conservation and for future generations to come.
And, no doubt, there is still much more that needs to be understood – and ultimately to be accomplished. That too is a matter of will… of genuinely caring enough to get the job done.
Letters of support for an Alvord phenotype rescue and restoration project may be sent to: Shannon Hurn, ODFW District Office, 237 Highway 20 South/PO Box 8, Hines, OR 97738 firstname.lastname@example.org – Here is an example of an excellent Letter of Support