Local Members Donate $2,000 for Airlift of Fish
9/29/1999 -- -- Arizona's once prolific Gila (He-la) trout will return to their former home on Wednesday thanks to the leadership, financial assistance and manpower of local Trout Unlimited members. Four Arizona TU members will make the rugged trip to the remote Dude Creek (in the Tonto Forest) in the central Arizona Mountains (near Payson, AZ) to assist the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) and the Gila Trout Recovery Team implement a historic reintroduction of the Gila Trout to Arizona waters.
The long awaited trip to reintroduce Gila Trout is a result of the early leadership Arizona Trout Unlimited members took in March of 1997. TU Arizona organized a meeting in Phoenix of all the stakeholders of the Gila Trout Recovery Team that includes: US Fish & Wildlife Service, Arizona Game & Fish Department, New Mexico Game & Fish Department, US Forest Service and the Tonto Forest Ranger District. In addition, the Arizona Zane Grey Chapter of Trout Unlimited also donated $2,000 in funding for the "long-line helicopter" to transport the Gila Trout from the Tonto Creek fish hatchery to the remote Dude Creek relocation sites.
In 1990, a tragic forest fire consumed 24,000 acres of the Tonto National Forest and left the Dude Creek void of life. However, the fire also provided ideal living conditions for the native Gila trout and provided Arizona with an important window of opportunity for reintroduction. On Wednesday, September 29th approximately 200 Gila trout, listed under the Endangered Species Act, will travel via helicopters and trucks from Spruce Creek, New Mexico and the Tonto Creek Hatchery (below the Mogollon Rim) to four remote locations at Dude Creek, Arizona. State, federal and local agencies will be joined by the Trout Unlimited volunteers and many others to help transfer the trout into selected spots on Dude Creek which provide optimal living conditions for the unique fish.
"Because of the rugged terrain, the logistics of transporting the fish to this remote location with the least amount of stress possible, it became apparent early on that the long line helicopter method was far superior to tanker trucks. In order to off set this very costly operation, while ensuring safe and efficient transport of the trout, Trout Unlimited donated $2,000 of its own funds to guarantee that sufficient helicopter flight time would be available for this delicate effort," said Carm Moehle, Arizona State TU Council Chairman.
"The Dude (Creek) fire and subsequent flooding scoured all habitat from Dude Creek and adjoining creeks -- eradicating all life in its wake," stated Dave Cohen, Conservation Chairman for Arizona TU. "After assessing the damage of this devastating fire, it became clear that a golden opportunity for Gila trout reintroduction awaited action at Dude Creek."
The TU members will travel from Mesa, Phoenix, Tempe and Tucson to make the rigorous hike to Dude Creek (which is the last leg of the journey necessary to relocate the trout) located just below the Mogollon Rim near Payson. Although many more of Arizona Trout Unlimited's 1,200 statewide membership offered assistance, the Gila Trout Recovery Team could only select four TU members to participate due to cramped working space and fragile conditions.
Gila Trout once occupied the headwater streams of the Agua Fria, Verde and San Francisco Rivers. The unique fish, which are tolerant of high temperature streams, disappeared from Arizona rivers at the turn of the century due to habitat loss and non-native trout species competing for the rivers' resources.
The Gila Trout to be reintroduced in Arizona will come from the Spruce Creek strain, located in the Gila River drainage, in the Gila Wilderness Area of New Mexico. The Spruce Creek Strain is the only strain of the endangered Gila Trout that has not been replicated through reintroduction efforts and is the most susceptible to extirpation due to a catastrophic event like a fire in the Gila Wilderness Area, the same kind of event that decimated Dude Creek in 1990.
Founded in 1959 in Grayling, Michigan, Trout Unlimited is America's leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization. TU's 100,000 members in 500 chapters nationwide are dedicated to the conservation, protection, and restoration of North America's trout and salmon and their watersheds.