2012-2013: We Can Only Hope Oregon’s Desert Trout Live On

This has been a remarkably devastating year for Oregon’s native desert trout . . .

While the “powers that be” exercised wisdom – by closing the roads leading into an area where a remnant of phenotypical Alvord cutthroat trout remain; the surrounding areas of SE Oregon were not so lucky – and the hot, dry oxygen depletion spoken of in late summer has taken a catastrophic toll on remaining native strains of Humboldt cutthroat trout.

The Willow Creek and Whitehorse Creek Systems of SE Oregon were devastated by fire this summer.  ODFW has reported on this tragedy, and has closed the systems to fishing:

Southeast Oregon Lahontan cutthroat trout streams closed to fishing due to fire damage     August 31, 2012  (ODFW)

Little Whitehorse Fire Damage

The recent Holloway fire destroyed streamside habitat along Little Whitehorse Creek, home to one of Oregon’s few native Lahontan cutthroat populations.

Fire Damage to Riparian Habitat

Fire Damage to Riparian Habitat Motivated Closure of W/W Creek Systems.

HINES, Ore. – The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced today it will suspend fishing in several Lahontan cutthroat trout streams in southeast Oregon due to severe habitat damage from the recent Holloway fire.

The following streams will be closed to all fishing beginning Sept. 1 until further notice:

  • In the Willow-Whitehorse Basin: all streams including but not limited to Cottonwood, Doolittle, Fifteeenmile, Little Whitehorse, Whitehorse and Willow creeks.
  • In the McDermitt Creek Subbasin: Cottonwood, McDermitt and N. Fork McDermitt creeks.
  • In the Quinn Basin (Malheur County): Indian and Sage creeks will remain closed.

The Holloway fire burned 245,505 acres in Oregon in the far southeastern corner of the state near the Nevada border.

According to Shannon Hurn, ODFW fish biologist in Hines, the fire totally destroyed the riparian vegetation on some stream sections and fire fighters observed fish dying from asphyxiation during the fire. Long-term impacts could include higher water temperatures in summer, lower water temperatures in winter and increased sediment from eroding soils, she said.

The loss is particularly notable because the burned area includes Oregon’s only pure native Lahontan cutthroat trout populations.

“While it’s too soon to know the full impact of the fire on the trout population, we believe it will be profound,” she said. “However, we’re hopeful that enough fish and riparian habitat survived the fire to rebuild the population.”

Lahontan cutthroat trout can grow to be the largest of all cutthroat trout and were once found throughout desert basins in parts of California, Nevada and southeast Oregon. In recent decades, many populations have disappeared due to dam construction, habitat loss and the introduction of non-native brown, brook and rainbow trout.

The species has been protected since 1973 and is currently listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. In 2006, it was identified in the Oregon Conservation Strategy as a species in need of conservation.

In 1989 biologists counted only 8,000 Lahontan trout in the Whitehorse basin. During the most recent population survey in 2011, the population was estimated at 23,800. Several streams were opened to catch-and-release fishing in 2001 due to growing or stable populations.

Hurn credits the population rebound in the 1990s to the efforts of the Trout Creek Mountain Working Group, a coalition of ranchers, government agencies, and environmental advocacy groups that have been working on Lahontan cutthroat trout recovery since the late 1980s.

Much of the riparian habitat restored by the Working Group was destroyed in the fire.

Contact: Shannon Hurn (541) 573-6582
Jessica Sall (503) 947-6023; cell (503) 931-6858

Perhaps – perhaps – there is something to be thankful for in the fact that the ***** Creek system was not so adversely affected by fire . . .  Yet it is evident that the summer of 2012 has taken a toll, even where the fires did not rage —

Perhaps we should all take stock of how fragile these rare and virtually extinct populations of desert trout truly are . . .

before it becomes too late to provide protection and the vital support that these trout need.

© KOD December 2012

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, Observations, Of Fauna and Flora. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to 2012-2013: We Can Only Hope Oregon’s Desert Trout Live On

  1. Ken Cole says:

    The Holloway and Long Draw fires were devastating for many species of wildlife, especially sage grouse, pygmy rabbits, and Lahontan cutthroat. I took a tour of the portion of the Holloway fire in Nevada and the devastation was mind boggling.

    Unfortunately, the BLM is probably going to have cattle on the landscape in just two growing seasons. They have already started planting nonnative crested wheatgrass and Siberian wheatgrass which will make the landscape even more fire prone than it was, so I worry that this will become a continuous cycle just like the Jarbidge district in southern Idaho which now burns about every three years.

    The BLM has fundamentally changed the ecology of our desert landscapes through very poor management done to benefit ranchers over every other resource. I’m very discouraged.

  2. Mike Ogle says:

    I hate to say it but these fish were being considered for a licensed fishery and take; this will slow down ODFWs plan. The creek * is still unprotected for the alvords and they refuse to fund a DNA analysis until the phenotype probably wont exist.

  3. Ken Cole says:

    Take a look at the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge management plan. There is some stuff about Alvord cutthroat and a desire to reesatblish them to Virgin Creek if possible.


  4. Patrick Sievert says:

    Thankfully, Willow Creek wasn’t nearly as affected. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Whitehorse Creek.

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