The arid Great Basin landscapes of Nevada seem an unlikely place for any cold water fish, much less the world’s largest species of cutthroat trout.
But much of the northern half of Nevada is, in fact, native range for the Lahontan cutthroat (Onchorhynchus clarkii henshawi).
When the explorer John C. Fremont passed through Nevada in the 1840's he found cutthroat trout so large that he referred to them as “salmon trout.” Since that time, however, water withdrawals, barriers to fish passage, road construction, habitat loss and degradation, and introduction of non-native species have pushed the “salmon trout” to the brink of extinction.
Today, Lahontan cutthroat are extirpated from all but some eight to nine percent of their historic stream habitats and now occupy less than one percent of their historic lake habitats.
Trout Unlimited has been working for over two decades to bring back the “salmon trout.” We have made some significant progress in this recovery effort, largely through partnerships we have forged with ranchers, mining interests, resource agencies, and other conservation groups.
And in one corner of Nevada these partnerships are paying off in dramatic habitat restoration and improvement in water supply and landscape function, demonstrating clearly that investments in cold water conservation benefit everyone – fish and people alike.
Reconnecting Maggie Creek tributaries: before and after.
Case in point: in 1993, a group of partners initiated the Maggie Creek Watershed Restoration Project (MCWRP) to enhance 82 miles of stream, 2,000 acres of riparian habitat, and 40,000 acres of upland watershed in the Maggie Creek basin.
Restoration tactics included putting in fences around critical riparian habitats, “prescription” grazing practices in other areas, establishing conservation easements, and developing off-channel watering sources for livestock.
Trout Unlimited and other partners leveraged this success to expand the restoration area and reconnect tributaries to the mainstem creek by removing culverts that were barriers to fish movement. And though not official partners, the beavers that moved back in following habitat improvements have helped raise the water table and restore wetland vegetation to the floodplain.
Altogether, this effort has resulted in dramatic improvements in habitat conditions, creating a functional, hydrated floodplain and a healthy riparian zone with demonstrated ecological and human benefits.
John Zablocki, TU’s Lahontan Conservation Coordinator/Biologist, directs the contributions of TU’s Science and Restoration programs to the Maggie Creek initiative, and develops and manages relationships with our partners from the ranching, mining, and resource agency communities. Zablocki and Zeb Hogan just published an entertaining and informative blog on Lahontan cutthroat restoration in the Maggie Creek watershed in the “Water Currents” blog on nationalgeographic.com. Check it out here: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2014/04/07/partnership-protects-americas-largest-native-trout-in-dry-nevada/ .