Oregon Lahontan Cutthroat Trout, and Results of Six Years of Management Developed by the Trout Creek Working Group
by Ron Rhew, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oregon State Office, Portland, Oregon
|Following a taxonomic review of Willow Whitehorse cutthroat trout, sufficient genetic information was presented to indicate that Willow Whitehorse cutthroat are indistinguishable from Lahontan cutthroat trout. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) decided in November 1991, that Willow Whitehorse cutthroat are to be considered Lahontan cutthroat trout, and afforded protection under the Endangered Species Act as a threatened species.
In 1992, the Service entered formal Section 7 consultation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on the effects of proposed grazing actions in Oregon's Trout Creek and Oregon Canyon Mountains to the Lahontan cutthroat trout. Before consultation, grazing strategies were developed over several years to protect the then identified Willow Whitehorse cutthroat, (a Federal candidate species for listing), and improve overall watershed conditions. The Trout Creek Working Group, a coalition of private, State, and Federal members, was the primary vehicle used to arrive at and carry out needed grazing management reforms. Following strategy development and despite approximately ten years of drought, implemented grazing strategies have resulted in continuous overall improvement of riparian and upland habitat conditions. The Service has continually verified compliance with terms and conditions of issued biological opinions yearly since 1992. To date, through the 1996 grazing season, the BLM and livestock operators have maintained compliance with stated management objectives, further verifying conservation commitments agreed to by the Trout Creek Working Group. As an illustration of the potential success of this program, expected numbers of trout detections during a census effort in 1994 were estimated at 400 fish (200 adults and 200 juveniles). Actual numbers sampled were 1800 fish, with a relatively large proportion of spawning age fish. This success is more remarkable considering 1994 was one of, if not the worst water year on record. Further analysis by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife indicates that trout numbers have increased from a low of approximately 8,000 fish in the summer of 1989, to approximately 40,000 fish in 1994. As stated above, this increase occurred during a period of severe drought.
A major key to successful application of any grazing system is both voluntary and enforced compliance with stated management guidelines. Other key aspects include active participation among all affected interests, effective communication between all parties, and cooperation, commitment, and leadership especially as displayed by the Vale BLM District. Positive working relationships developed during consultations on the Trout Creek Mountains have facilitated additional cooperative efforts among the Service, BLM, and private groups and individuals, working with grazing interests in other areas of the State to achieve positive resource accomplishments on the land. The Trout Creek experience continues to provide an undeniable example of watershed restoration that serves as a benchmark for evaluating other grazing activities.
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