Pure cutthroats to get relief from invaders | AspenTimes.com

Pure cutthroats to get relief from invaders

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation plans to divert water later this summer from Cunningham Creek, a tributary of the Fryingpan River, in an effort to help the native Colorado cutthroat trout. Photo courtesy Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Sucking water out of Pitkin County’s mountains for the Front Range is actually going to help a native fish in the upper Fryingpan River drainage this summer. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is going to divert as much water as possible from a somewhat obscure stream in the upper Fryingpan River drainage in August to help wildlife officials save a pure strain of Colorado cutthroat trout.The Colorado Division of Wildlife has been contemplating for at least 10 years how to preserve the special cutthroats in Cunningham Creek.”The lower portion of the creek has been taken over by brooks and browns,” said wildlife division spokesman Randy Hampton. Those non-native strains of trout came from the upper Fryingpan River.

A waterfall has been created near the creek’s confluence with the river so no other invaders can swim upstream. Now the wildlife division wants to purge the unwanted fish.Fish poison is often used in these scenarios but it won’t be used on Cunningham Creek, Hampton said. Poison is typically placed high in a creek to kill the invasive fish, then purged from the stream with a neutralizing agent farther down. Fryingpan Valley residents were opposed to the use of poison.Instead, wildlife officers aided by volunteers will catch as many brooks and browns as possible when the bureau closes the spigot for a day or two. Cunningham Creek is among the 16 streams in the upper Fryingpan basin where the Bureau of Reclamation diverts water to the Front Range through the Fryingpan-Arkansas Project.Some fish won’t be caught because they will be too small to be seen or they will hide in pools, Hampton said. So the stream will be electro-shocked to remove the remainder. Most brooks and browns will be taken to the Fryingpan River, Hampton said. A small number won’t survive the electro-shocking, he said.

The cutthroats won’t be adversely affected by the low water flow, which won’t last long, or the electro-shock, which will be lower on the creek than where they currently reside, Hampton said. The bureau maintains a minimum streamflow throughout the summer.The project has the support of local anglers. Kirk Webb, a manager at Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt, said Cunningham is one of only three streams in Colorado that contain a genetically pure population of indigenous cutthroats.They have been overwhelmed in most places by the browns and brooks, which fare better in part because they spawn in the fall, when water temperatures and flows are more favorable. Cutthroats spawn in the spring, when conditions can be tougher, and they are more sensitive to environmental factors, Webb said.Cutthroats can be found in other streams and rivers in the Roaring Fork watershed, but none are as genetically pure at those in Cunningham Creek, Webb said. Some local anglers venture up to Cunningham Creek, a dazzling drainage off the North Fork of the Fryinpgan, but it’s not a big destination, he said. Especially not when the gold-medal waters of the Fryinpgan and parts of the Roaring Fork River are so easily accessible.

Cutthroats are distinguished by their beauty. They have a reddish-orange swath on the underside of their throat.They can also be easier to catch than other trout. “They’re relatively stupid,” Webb said.But they will soon be secure in Cunningham Creek.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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