Scientists warn of climate threats to Southwest native trout

Apache trout


May 1, 2015


Randy Scholfield,, 720-375-3961

Jack Williams,, 541-261-3960

Scientists warn of climate threats to Southwest native trout

Trout Unlimited launches SWNatives campaign to save Americas most imperiled trout

(Phoenix)Scientists from conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited and federal and state wildlife agencies gathered in Phoenix last week at the sixth annual Southwest Native and Wild Trout Conference to address the threats to native Southwest trout species, which they warned face devastating impacts from climate change and other pressures.

These rare native trout species have been hanging on for eons in rugged backcountry areas, said Jack Williams, senior scientist for Trout Unlimited. Theyre survivorsbut theyve never faced the one-two punch of climate change and invading nonnative species. We need to act now to protect these irreplaceable and beautiful species, before its too late.

The conference, cohosted by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and Trout Unlimited, attracted more than 100 individuals representing more than 35 agencies and organizations involved in conservation and management, trout recovery and habitat enhancement.

Although many people do not associate the arid Southwest with trout, the cool headwater streams of Arizona and New Mexico once teemed with native trout. But in recent decades, these once vibrant fish populations have plummeted due to drought, climate change, wildfires and the continued spread of nonnative species.

Apache trout historically occurred only in the streams of the upper Salt River and upper Little Colorado River Watersheds. Gila trout are less well known and their native range stretched from the Upper Gila River in New Mexico through the Blue and San Francisco Rivers along the Arizona-New Mexico border and west to the Verde River in Arizona. The Rio Grande cutthroat trout ranged from the high mountain headwaters of the Rio Grande, Pecos and Canadian rivers in Colorado and New Mexico southward to small streams in the Davis and Guadalupe Mountains, making it the only trout native to Texas.

SWNatives initiative launched

At the meeting, Trout Unlimited unveiled a new campaign, the SWNatives initiative, aimed at protecting Southwest native trout through ramped-up restoration, reconnection, reintroduction and monitoring efforts. TUs grassroots leaders in the Southwest are dedicated to the recovery of these native trout and have a demonstrated history of successful projects. For years, tribes, federal and state agencies including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, the Departments of Game and Fish in New Mexico, Arizona and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife have carried out successful restoration and protection projects.

Williams said TU and its partners recognize the urgency of the situation and the potential to have a larger impact by working together. The SWNatives opportunities discussed include:

increasing the resilience of native trout to climate change and drought by reconnecting watersheds and creating larger, more interconnected populations.

expanding stream restoration projects in Arizona and New Mexico with TU grassroots chapters taking the lead.

conducting research on climate change impacts and trout genetics in conjunction with state agency scientists and universities.

For anglers, Southwest native trout provide abundant recreational opportunities to pursue rare and beautiful trout found nowhere else on Earth, in remote, rugged landscapes of wild grandeur. These trout are also a rich part of our cultural and biological heritage here in the Southwest. They are worth protecting and preserving, said Steve LaFalce, President of TUs Arizona Council.

Native trout are special to New Mexican anglers and the Rio Grande cutthroat is our State Fish, said Art Vollmer, chair of TUs New Mexico council. In recent years, Trout Unlimited volunteers have devoted countless hours and resources to protecting Gila and Rio Grande cutthroat populations in the state, but we need to redouble those efforts. The SWNatives campaign will further strengthen our working relationship with New Mexico Game & Fish and encourage new partnerships and projects to make it happen.”

People around the country hear about Arizona and the first thing that comes to mind is cactus and desert, definitely not fishing for trout, said Mike Anderson, Native Trout Coordinator for Arizona Game and Fish Department. We all have a huge opportunity in the near future to do some really good things for Gila and Apache trout, not only to improve the overall status of the species, but to provide anglers in Arizona the chance to fish for a couple of species found nowhere else in the world.

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