The End of the Innocence? — Or the Beginning of an Answer?

Sometimes the complexities of life seem to be — more — than we would like them to be. Often, it really isn’t that things are nearly so dire, or difficult, as our thoughts and feelings might make them out to be; it’s just that things aren’t as simple as we’d like them to be.

Naturally we desire life to flow smoothly and easily.  Yet matters of value are rarely those that come easily or by happenstance.  Naturally, circumstances fraught with difficulty and stress inevitably revolve around matters of significance or meaning. The more problematic a circumstance is; the greater becomes the value for the solution — the resolution.

We hope and believe that such is the case where the remnant of what would appear to be a relict remnant of phenotypical Alvord cutthroat trout in ***** Creek — will prove to be.

Of course, we did inquire about ODFW’s response to the request for the trout regulations adjustment on ***** Creek, and found that it was indeed Trout Creek (and its tributaries) that are listed as the “many streams” in the Alvord Basin that have Alvord phenotypes.

A decades old quote was identified as the basis for that statement; made after Dr. Behnke classified the Alvord cutthroat trout extirpated based on analysis of the stream in the 70’s.

This quote may also have helped inspire other authors to state that “Small, unique Alvord cutthroat inhabit its bracing upper waters. … There’s not a lot of water in the upper creek, and the trout above are generally under 8 inches and darkly speckled.” 1   This quote drew us to Trout Creek many years ago.  A time or two, we did seem to be flirting with trout that seemed to have larger, darker spots; yet of the trout that we’ve brought to hand — all the way to Sherman Field at the very headwaters of the main Trout Creek — none of them even had cut marks — let alone the characteristics to be considered an Alvord phenotype.  (Though we would love to find a remnant of phenotypical Alvords in their home domain.)

We also inquired regarding the statement that trout were stocked in ***** in 1925/1933.  A spreadsheet was generated September of 2006 (fall of the year Dr. Behnke was there). The source document for this insertion in the spreadsheet may be in the file cabinets of the Hines ODFW office; and we’ve asked if the source document(s) can be located (in hope of additional information as to the origin of trout planted in ***** Creek in 1925 and 1933).

And, as additional relevant news; we did have a conversation with the primary geneticist and lab involved in the analysis of trout from the ***** system thus far; and there are some relevant details that have come to the surface as a result of this conversation . . .

In recent history, labs have undertaken SNP (single nucleotide polymorphisms; ‘snips’) analysis as an alternative to analysis of nuclear (microsatellite) markers, or mitochondrial (Mt) DNA (which is strictly from the female parent).  Snips are perhaps more basic strands of DNA that are generally more resilient to the rigors of formaldehyde preservation or the ravages of time spent in a museum ‘waiting’ for a geneticist to come along and test them.

A challenge with this new technology is that specific ‘markers’ for divergent strains of trout have not been cataloged — and are yet in the process of being identified and recorded . . .   Nonetheless, there are evident advantages to this methodology.

Here’s the gist of what was related to us as a back of the envelope outline of recent results, and prospective future activity, where the strains of trout in ***** Creek are concerned:

The geneticist did say that “If we can get this funded it will be a great project.” (a reference to the prospect of utilizing SNPs to analyze the pre-hybridization alvordensis samples in the Hubbs’ Collection at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.)  “To be sure that we have diagnostic markers for Alvords we would need to look at most of the cutthroat trout subspecies.”

A recent cooperative project with NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center developed SNPs to:

1) Distinguish between Lahontans and rainbows (16 markers)

2) Identify pure Lahontans and hybridized fish, but not the identity of who they hybridized with (24 markers)

3) Identify pure Yellowstone cutts, Yellowstone-Lahontan hybridized fish and hybrids that we do not know the identity of who they hybridized with (10 markers)

4) And they have identified 36 markers that are variable within the Lahontans

5) And they have identified 23 microsatellite markers for Lahontans

Perhaps the most interesting thing is that they did include samples from ***** Creek in their analysis (these would be random trout samples taken by electro-shocking in 2008).  Their study from these samples states: “***** has Lahontan genotypes, rainbow-Lahontan hybrids, pure Yellowstone and a lot of Yellowstone-Lahontan hybrids.”

(We’ve long considered that many of the trout in ***** have looked like Yellowstone cutts.  And some have looked like Bonneville and even Paiute [though that’s not uncommon with some Lahontan populations].  And some distinctly have Alvord cutthroat trout likeness.)

Of course, we’ll be inquiring whether the lab still has the handful of Alvord phenotype clips that were taken in 2010.  If these are viable (and they should be, if they still have them), they should be an asset to analyze once the alvordensis genetic baseline is fairly identified.

(To this author the thought that Yellowstone cutthroat trout may have been introduced to ***** Creek isn’t surprising — though it may add a layer of complexity to the whole story. Indeed, there was a time in our history that Yellowstone cutts were extensively moved – and yet, ironically; this may confirm that trout were placed here from multiple sources.)

They went on to say that “Every fish in our sample … can be identified as a Lahontan, Yellowstone or Yellowstone-Lahontan hybrid.  However, it would be interesting to run these markers on known Alvords and see what we get.”

Using other resources, they would get samples from the known cutthroat trout species…

A final thought was that “A rough estimate for total cost is around $45,000…”

Hopefully the assistance of Native Trout Enthusiasts, Trout Unlimited, the Western Native Trout Initiative, and perhaps other entities — being able to pool their resources (to fully enable this genetic investigation) will ultimately provide answers about the heritage and genetic legacy of the last known pure remnants of the Alvord cutthroat trout — and the evident phenotypical remnant that still insist on asserting their presence in ***** Creek.

Positively — Mary Peacock did say “If we can get this funded it will be a great project,” and she also did state “it would be interesting to run these markers on known Alvords and see what we get.”

Actually, the findings with the random samples tend to confirm our visual findings that other cutthroat types are dominant in the system; and trout with the Alvord phenotype are in a minority status — perhaps 1:20.  And, it also may reflect on the prospect of a genetic legacy derived from more than one genetic source for Alvord cutthroat trout:

“Indeed, on more than one occasion it would seem that we’ve caught Lahontan, Humboldt, Alvord, Yellowstone, Bonneville and Paiute cutthroat trout (perhaps also with Rainbow or Redband thrown in) all in the same day – in a stream small enough to simply step across.” From “About”

“Well-developed shorelines of Lake Alvord at 1280 m and in Coyote Basin at 1278 m suggest that after the initial flood, post-flood overflow persisted for an extended period, connecting Alvord and Coyote Basins with the Owyhee River of the Columbia River drainage.”

“So, “once upon a time” the Alvord Basin was not, technically, a closed basin.  And there was a prolonged time span connection between the Great Basin and the Columbia Basin. Which may explain the thousands of years old redband genetics in Robert Smith’s Alvord.

“…since there indeed was overflow for an extended period from the Alvord Basin into the Snake River Basin (on into the Columbia Basin) are there other possibilities this prolonged inter-connection time span might indicate?

“In Trout and Salmon of North America, on pages 170-171, Robert J. Behnke expounds in remarkable detail regarding remnants of cutthroat trout in the Snake and Columbia River systems and of the probable elimination of Yellowstone cutthroat trout in the lower Snake and Columbia Rivers by rainbow trout; and the eventual replacement in some tributaries by Westslope cutthroat trout.

“If remnants of Yellowstone cutthroat trout were salted throughout the lower Columbia and Snake River plateaus, and if remnants of Westslope cutthroat trout also found their way to these basins (as is known that they did) one might wonder what other ‘secrets’ the whole genome of the Alvord cutthroat trout might reveal.Questions from the Pluvial Past

With so many Yellowstone cutthroat trout (and Rainbow trout) moved around after the turn of the 19th century, it would not be surprising that such might have been moved to ***** Creek by local homesteaders or ranchers.  Nor would it be surprising if trout from any source possible were placed there by the military (this including the Alvord Basin).

And as noted in Questions from the Pluvial Past it may be that “The prospect of a genetic legacy that originates from more than one source population may add complicating factors for the analysis of, and understanding of, this rare form of cutthroat trout.”

Though geology reveals that there was “an extended period, connecting Alvord and Coyote Basins with the Owyhee River of the Columbia River drainage;” Patrick Trotter, in his book Cutthroat: Native Trout of the West, points out the strong indication of headwater connection from Quinn River streams (such as Oregon Canyon Creeks) having once flowed concurrently with upper Whitehorse Creek.  The geological record, along with meristic and visible indicators — shows the relatedness of the Willow/Whitehorse Creek cutthroat trout with the Quinn River strains (perhaps especially with humboldtensis near McDermitt).

This would explain why Dr. Behnke & Patrick Trotter wrote a paper naming Humboldt cutthroat trout as O. c. humboldtensis, and applying this designation to the Willow and Whitehorse Creek strains.  This is not to get into the Willow/Whitehorse designation, except to note that this inter-McDermitt Basin mix may account for contradistinction of Alvord cutthroat and the Willow/Whitehorse strain — yielding distinct meristic factors.

(Mean gill-raker count for O. c. alvordensis is in-between that of typical Lahontan, and Yellowstone cutts — and far higher than the low gill-raker count for O. c. humboldtensis. Meristic Counts for O. c. alvordensis: Alvord Cutthroat Trout)

Even though the plot may have thickened in the saga regarding the Alvord cutthroat trout; the truth is, the only way we will ever begin to know the rest of the story is by analyzing the pre-hybrid alvordensis samples of the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology — in order to ascertain and confirm what the genetic baseline for pure Alvord cutthroat trout is.

It may be that the idea of Alvords being solely descended from Lahontan stock may not be the complete picture.  It may even be that the analysis will only yield a piece of the puzzle.  Or, it could be that the phenotypes in the ***** system are actually the result of a mixture of Yellowstone and Lahontan cutthroat trout (— as could be the original pure alvordensis).


But, the reality is, there’s only one way to find out.


© KOD 5-2012

1) From Fishing in Oregon, Eighth Edition, Flying Pencil Publications, 1995 (Pg. 238)

Upper Trout Creek

Upper Trout Creek with the Nevada border on the south  –  and the springs of Sage Creek in the lower right hand corner. If you go there looking for Alvord phenotypes, do not rely solely on this map… Make sure you know where you’re going and stay safe. (The roads are PRIMITIVE – but the area does give one a sensation of being “on top of the world.”  It is a very remote wilderness . . . so, please be careful.)     If anyone does obtain photos of any trout with cutt marks please share them with us; – and if you so desire – we’d be thrilled to also share them on-line!


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!
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2 Responses to The End of the Innocence? — Or the Beginning of an Answer?

  1. Pingback: To Those Who’ve Made what we Take for Granted – Into Reality | Alvord Cutthroat Trout — Phenotype       Remnant Rescue‎ | ‎Restoration Précis

  2. Pingback: Genetic Facts that should not be Overlooked in Pursuit of the Truth | Alvord Cutthroat Trout — Phenotype       Remnant Rescue‎ | ‎Restoration Précis

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