State of the Trout: Native fish in the Southwest in perilous state

Date: 
Tue, 06/23/2015

June 23, 2015

Contacts:
Jack Williams, Trout Unlimited senior scientist, jwilliams@tu.org, (541) 261-3960
Chris Hunt, Trout Unlimited national communications director, chunt@tu.org, (208) 406-9106

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New Trout Unlimited report highlights challenges facing native trout in the U.S.
Climate change, non-native species among biggest threats to native trout in the Southwest

WASHINGTON, D.C.—North America’s already embattled native trout populations continue to face serious threats, according to a comprehensive new report released today by Trout Unlimited.

“The State of the Trout” details the status of 28 separate species and subspecies of trout and char native to the United States. Of those detailed populations, three are already extinct, and more than half of the remaining trout and char populations occupy less than 25 percent of their native waters. While the state of trout in America is tenuous, there are success stories that prove trout recovery is possible. The report lays out a roadmap for that recovery.

Trout Unlimited’s staff of scientists spent more than a year preparing the detailed report with input from TU’s field staff and independent, federal and state fisheries experts. The full report is available in digital form at tu.org.

“Native trout are in trouble in the United States,” said Chris Wood, Trout Unlimited’s president and CEO, in the report’s foreword. “But we are making a difference and with help, involvement and action can promise a future of recovery, not one of loss, for our children.”
Energy development and climate change head a long list of challenges facing trout, which also are under pressure from increased demand on the nation’s water resources, threats from non-native species, and loss and degradation of habitat.

In the Southwest, native Rio Grande cutthroat trout, Gila trout and Apache trout are threatened by a number of challenges, including energy development, impacts from past mining and extreme natural events like drought, fire and floods that are exacerbated by a changing climate.

Today, Rio Grande cutthroat trout occupy less than 10 percent of their native range, and persist mostly in small headwater streams where they are susceptible to isolated weather events like drought and flood. These fish were first discovered in 1541 by Coronado’s expedition north from Mexico into the southern Rockies, and they once thrived from the San Juan Mountains of southern Colorado, into New Mexico and even into the Davis Mountains of Texas. They’ve long since been extirpated from Texas, and human activities over the last two centuries have eaten into Rio Grande cutthroat habitat so that today, they are among the most rare of America’s native trout.

Farther south in the Gila country of southern New Mexico and Arizona, Gila and Apache trout still persist, but in populations that are small and isolated. Threatened today by the introduction of non-native fish and a warming climate, these trout are truly at the mercy of humans who are working to reintroduce them to native watersheds.
Gila trout recovery was going well until the 2012 Whitewater Baldy fire burned and essentially destroyed seven of the 15 recovered populations, demonstrating the fragile nature of native trout recovery in the Southwest, where climate change exacerbates drought and causes fire to burn hotter and longer.

In 1969, the Apache trout became one of the first trout species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act. These trout that once occupied 680 stream miles in Arizona’s White Mountains were found in only 30 stream miles at the time of their listing. Their populations were overstocked with non-native rainbow and brown trout, and overgrazing, timber harvest and road construction took a toll on the Apache’s habitat. Today, after significant restoration efforts, Apache trout now occupy 170 stream miles. Plans to reintroduce Apache trout to an additional 30-40 stream miles are under way.

"Native trout are among the most beautiful but also scarce resources we have in the Southwest,” said Mike Anderson, native trout coordinator for Arizona Game and Fish Department. "’The State of the Trout’ report very aptly describes the dual threats from non-native fish and a rapidly changing climate faced by our native Apache and Gila trout."

In the end, though, it’s all about hope.

“People who fish are eternal optimists,” Wood said. “Even the most cynical among us, on the last cast of the day, are confident we will catch the biggest fish of the day. That optimism and hope for the future breathes through this report.”

Read the report today at tu.org/stateofthetrout.

To download print and web-ready photos that correspond to the report:

http://bit.ly/1GuyvUg

Password is: SOT
To download broadcast-quality video and b-roll footage that correspond to the report:

http://bit.ly/1MOKv4z

Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s trout and salmon and their watersheds. Follow TU on Facebook and Twitter, and follow our blog for all the latest information on trout and salmon conservation.

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