Without a real update status report, and without a visit to the region of SE Oregon where this remnant of phenotypical Alvord cutthroat trout have persisted through the last years, it is difficult to have a tremendous amount of information to report on and to write about…
Yet, in reviewing literature on the region and the subject at hand, I realized that there is a report from September 2012 published by the Native Fish Society with relevant history or perspective regarding Trout Creek’s neighbors to the east: Willow and Whitehorse Creeks.
Embedded below is a brief excerpt from the Conservation and Science Report, September 2012, by Bill Baake:
Excerpt from CONSERVATION AND SCIENCE REPORT
By Bill Bakke
Whitehorse Creek Wild Fire and Trout: In August the huge Holloway wild fire in the Trout Creek Mountains burned the watershed of the Lahontan Cutthroat, a threatened species. The Holloway fire burned 245,505 acres in Oregon in the far southeastern corner of the state near the Nevada border.
The streams affected by this fire are Willow-Whitehorse Creeks, Cottonwood, Doolittle, Fifteenmile, Little Whitehorse, McDermitt Creek and the Quinn River basin. Jim Myron contacted ODFW and recommended that these streams be closed to angling and the agency closed them on September first until further notice. These streams were subsequently closed to angling.
My involvement in these streams began when I recommended a genetics study of the trout to determine their linage. Were they Lahontan cutthroat trout? At the time there was an academic debate about what kind of trout they were, but it was not being resolved, so to determine whether they would be protected under the ESA, a genetics study was completed. It was determined that they were in fact related to the Lahontan cutthroat though they were located at the far northern edge of the Great Basin occupied by this species of cutthroat trout. In fact, the genetics study indicated that they could be considered a subspecies of Lahontan, but were folded into the larger species unit and listed as a threatened species following this genetics study.
It was important to make this determination not only to settle the species and status of the trout, but to provide them protection. The Alvord Trout had already gone extinct and the state was busy planting non-native rainbow trout in the area. Trout Creek had already been compromised by the release of rainbow trout that had hybridized with the native cutthroat trout in that stream. Following listing of the Willow-Whitehorse Creek Lahontan cutthroat, ODFW captured and released these trout into streams flowing into the Alvord desert on the east side of the Steens Mountain for the purpose of distributing this rare species. The concern was that illegal stocking of rainbow in Willow-Whitehorse creeks would hybridize with the Lahontan cutthroat and cause it to be lost. Protection of the Willow-Whitehorse trout was not popular among the residents of the area.
Steens Mountain in Oregon represents the separation between rainbow and cutthroat trout distribution in Southeast Oregon. It is believed, based on the best available science, that cutthroat invaded this portion of the state prior to the arrival of rainbow trout and geologic events isolated them from contact with rainbow trout. Rainbow are native to the west side of the Steens Mountain and cutthroat are native to the east side of the Steens Mountain and occupy the Alvord and Trout Creek Mountain watersheds.
A major issue has long been the grazing practices on public lands that these streams flow through. These public lands are “managed” by the Bureau of Land Management for cows not trout. The listing of the Lahontan cutthroat caused the BLM to protect the habitat of the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout in Oregon watersheds. ODFW and cooperating federal agencies have recently cleaned McDermitt Creek and tributaries of non-native trout, established some migration barriers to control re-invasion of non-native fish and restocked the streams with Lahontan cutthroat.
Jim and Kathy Myron spent countless days working on this project and Kathy served on the Trout Creek Mountain Working Group in the 1980s to establish a management plan for native trout. This effort built on previous work that lead to the listing of these fish as a threatened species.
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.
The impact of the Holloway fire on these streams caused fish to die and burned riparian areas along them. This ecological disaster places these fish at great risk and recovery will take several decades before the fish and their native streams will be productive again.
(Native Fish Society excerpt CONSERVATION AND SCIENCE REPORT September 2012, by Bill Bakke)