Wildlife biologists working to strengthen Colorado River Cutthroat trout

Utah Department of Wildlife Resources process eggsColorado River Cutthroat Trout egg harvest

Story and Photos by Kevin S. Abel
Dixie National Forest Public Affairs Office

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologists took to the Dixie National forest looking to trap Colorado River Cutthroat trout in the Escalante Ranger District’s Barker Recreation Area.

“These fish are native to basins in the southern region that flow into the Colorado River, primarily the Boulder Mountains,” said Chuck Chamberlain, Dixie/Fishlake National Forests Fish and Wildlife Program Manager. “The Dixie contains historic habitat for Colorado River Cutthroat and has been the primary source for these fish in Utah.”

These fish historically occupied portions of the Colorado River drainage in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. Widespread introductions of non-native salmonids over the last century have served to limit current distributions primarily to isolated headwater streams and lakes.

Unfortunately, pure Colorado River Cutthroat trout are now rare throughout their historic range because of habitat loss or alteration, predation by and competition with nonnative fishes, and hybridization with nonnative trout, such as the Rainbow trout.

Because of the many threats to the Colorado River Cutthroat, the subspecies is included on the Utah sensitive species list.

However, in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, in cooperation with the Dixie National Forest, began work to re-establish these fish into selected drainages of the Boulder Mountains.

To help these re-introductions, fish were transplanted into Dougherty Basin in hopes that they could be used as a brood source for future reintroductions and to establish sport fisheries for these rare fish. 

Recently, a team of biologists stayed on site at Dougherty Basin capturing fish and holding them in live wells until they could extract the eggs from the females.  The extracted eggs will end up in the state hatchery system where they have a much better survival rate of eggs to young fish until they are a few inches long.

A priority for this project is to take enough of eggs and fish to develop a brood source in the hatchery and use that source to populate more lakes and streams in the future for both conservation and sport fish purposes.

The conservation of the Colorado River Cutthroat trout is a fisheries management success story that has fortuitously preserved this species for future generations.  “Once imperiled, the Colorado River Cutthroat trout is now thriving in lakes and streams of the Boulder Mountains thanks to the efforts of the Utah DWR and Dixie National Forest,” said Chamberlain.