G&F completes restoration of LaBarge Creek
Into the creek
Hilda Sexauer, Pinedale Regional Fisheries Supervisor for the
Wyoming Game and Fish Department, puts fingerling Colorado River
Cutthroat trout into upper LaBarge Creek in August.
A fingerling Colorado River Cutthroat trout, such as those
stocked in LaBarge Creek, raised at the Wyoming Game and Fish
Department's Daniel Fish Hatchery.
Getting ready to stock
Greg Anderson, Assistant Superintendent at the Daniel Fish
Hatchery, dumps a load of fingerling Colorado River cutthroat trout in
the bucket of Joseph Cocco, Pinedale Fisheries Technician, to be stocked
in LaBarge Creek earlier this summer.
Fish movement barrier was installed in LaBarge Creek to isolate fish populations. Water can flow freely over the concrete wall, but it serves as a barrier to fish movement. Pinedale Online photo.
by Wyoming Game & Fish
October 3, 2007
(LaBarge) – The young Colorado River cutthroat trout slowly spilled over the rim of the bucket and into the crystal clear waters of LaBarge Creek, immediately darting for the safety of the shadows and over-hanging banks. It was a satisfying sight for Hilda Sexauer, Pinedale Regional Fisheries Supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
The stocking of the young fingerling trout was the culmination of work by Sexauer, and many others, that began eight long years ago as part of the largest fish restoration project ever launched in the state of Wyoming. The goal was to restore the entire upper reaches of the LaBarge Creek drainage to its native Colorado River cutthroat trout, the only trout native to the Green River drainage.
The Colorado River cutthroat has steadily diminished across its range and was even petitioned for listing as an endangered species in 1999. The listing was deemed unwarranted, thanks in part to projects like this helping to restore the sport fish to its native range.
“It was clear the native cutthroats were being outcompeted by nonnative fish, such as brook trout,” explains Sexauer. “Plus, we were losing the genetic purity of the remaining Colorado River cutthroats through hybridization with rainbow trout and other strains of cutthroats.”
LaBarge Creek was chosen for such a project because it had the quality habitat necessary for a successful restoration project and managers felt it could prove critical for the future survival of the species.
The project actually began in 1999 with public meetings and the planning necessary for the construction of a barrier that would effectively separate the area to be treated from the rest of the drainage below. Once the barrier was completed in 2002, treatments could begin to remove all the fish in the drainage above it. It involved treating some 58 stream miles, including LaBarge Creek and its many tributaries.
“Restoring a fishery back to its native species is a common practice in fish management across the country,” said Sexauer. “It’s a fairly straight-forward procedure in a closed basin like a lake, but it becomes a lot more difficult when you think about removing every single fish from a flowing stream and all of it’s little tributaries.”
Each summer, for the past several years, fish managers from across the state convened on LaBarge Creek to treat every nook and cranny of stream with antimycin and/or Rotenone. These chemicals are similar and each is effective at killing gilled critters, but is safe to other birds or mammals that may drink from the stream. The chemical persists in the stream for only a couple of days. At the end of treatments in 2006, fish managers determined they had finally removed all the nonnative fish and could prepare for stocking.
Consequently, this past August, approximately 9,200 pure strain Colorado River cutthroat trout, raised at the Game and Fish Department’s Daniel Fish Hatchery, were stocked into LaBarge Creek and it’s tributaries. “We plan to stock fish of various sizes over the coming years based on availability,” said Sexauer. “This year we stocked fish that were 4-5 inches and they should be about twice that length by next summer.” Fish managers hope to stock a variety of sized fish again next summer, some big enough for anglers to keep.
“We will monitor populations for the next several years, but expect a robust population to build in just a few years,” said Sexauer. “We may also reintroduce other native fish, such as mountain suckers and mottled sculpins, if necessary, to complete the system. The goal is to eventually have a self-sustaining, wild population of Colorado River cutthroat trout that won’t require any supplemental stocking.”
“We knew such a project would be a major undertaking, but with a lot of help we’re now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Sexauer. “We couldn’t have done it without the help and support from the Forest Service and many others.” Other project supporters included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oak Brook Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Wyoming Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Central Utah Project.
Photos courtesy Wyoming Game & Fish