Fire causes trouble for Gila trout

Gila trout just prior to its release into the Frye Mesa Reservoir, 2011. Melanie Dabovich/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo

As everyone watches fires burn across New Mexico and Colorado, some of the initial impacts are obvious and critical–houses go up in flames, money gets poured into firefighting efforts, and there are public health impacts from smoke.

But there are also impacts to wildlife.

The Whitewater-Baldy Fire in southwestern New Mexico, for instance, is currently causing trouble for Gila Trout.

For decades, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish have worked to recover the rare fish in streams throughout the Gila National Forest. In fact, seven years ago, the Fish and Wildlife Service even downlisted the species from “endangered” to “threatened.”

Now, a blog post from the New Mexico Council of Trout Unlimited shares bad news about the trout:

Dave Propst, president of the Bosque Chapter and key member of the Gila Trout Recovery Team, is down in the Gila now, and the news is not good.  It looks like 9 of the 14 populations of Gila trout have been affected by the fire.  Rescue efforts are under way to salvage fish in watersheds that have burned before rain can wash ash into the streams.  Yesterday those efforts ran into a brief snag regarding the use of the use of helicopters in a wilderness area to salvage fish, but Dave informs us that things have been resolved at least for the immediate future.

The plan is to physically remove the relic Gila populations (Spruce Creek et al), and it sounds like they’ve got a stream lined up in Arizona to hold them. For whatever reasons, these particular fish do not do well in the hatchery environment, so that’s not an option. However, populations such as the Iron creek Gila’s may be toast. And the healthy non-native trout populations in Willow, Whitewater and Mineral Creek will likely be devastated once the rains start.


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