Saturday, November 22, 2014

Lahontan Cutts - SE Oregon.....UPDATE

Holloway Fire map   -Holloway/wordpress
In 2012 along the Oregon-Nevada border, many may recall a large brush wildfire that burned to over 460,000 acres of BLM and rangeland - the Holloway Fire - over 250,000 acres were in Oregon. The fire was devastating at the time due to already worsening range conditions and moisture levels in that far SE corner of our state. Though many people do not venture out to this portion of Oregon there is more to it than just range grasslands and scrub.

This happens to be one of the areas where Lahontan Cutthroat exist and carry natural populations - ODFW staff are dedicated to this unique region and have been for decades. The species has been protected since 1973 and is currently listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. In 2006, it was identified in the Oregon Conservation Strategy as a species in need of conservation. In 1989 biologists counted only 8,000 Lahontan trout in the Whitehorse basin. During a population survey in 2011, the population was estimated at 23,800. Several streams were opened to catch-and-release fishing in 2001 due to growing or stable populations [ODFW News Release].

The Holloway Fire threatened all of this...

Many of the drainages they call home were burned to creeks edge with devastating habitat and riparian loss; in turn, water temps not only immediately rose from the surrounding flames but without cover the average stream temperatures would raise.
The 2012 Holloway fire destroyed streamside habitat along Little Whitehorse Creek, home to one of Oregon’s few native Lahontan cutthroat trout populations -ODFW
These adverse conditions caused emergency closures and a general call for help from ODFW to restore areas damaged by the fire [the general reaction for our team was this was too far from 'our' area to serve and perhaps groups from Idaho may better serve this cause]. ODFW and others moved in and did some immediate plantings to help restore the habitat work that occurred in the past.

Fast forward to November 2014 - Tom Wolf forwarded a note from SE District-Hines fish biologists on a recent survey of the system. The intrepid wild fish has held fast:
Hines District Office
DATE:  November 3, 2014                               

SUBJ:  Willow-Whitehorse Sampling

The purpose of this memo is to inform you regarding sampling for Lahontan cutthroat trout (LCT) by the Malheur Fish District on Willow Creek, Whitehorse Creek, Little Whitehorse Creek, and tributaries.

Malheur Fish District Staff and three volunteers sampled Willow Creek, Whitehorse Creek, Little Whitehorse Creek, and tributaries October 28-30, 2014.  Sampling was done to verify presence-absence of Lahontan cutthroat trout (LCT) following the Holloway fire in 2012.  The following summarizes our sampling data:

·  Sampling occurred at nine locations; three in the Whitehorse Creek drainage, four in the Little Whitehorse Creek drainage, and two in the Willow Creek drainage.  Three of the nine sites contained no fish, however only one of these sites (Cottonwood Creek) was dry at the time of sampling. 

·  The number of fish captured varied among drainages as did average and median lengths (Table 1).

·  Total length of LCT ranged from 42 mm to 360 mm and there appear to be at least five age-classes of fish among the three drainages (Figure 1). 

·  Multiple sizes of LCT were captured at both the upper and lower extremes of the drainages.

·  Riparian willow generation was substantial in some areas making it difficult to sample effectively. 

·  Beaver dams and complexes provided refuge habitat for LCT during this drought year and possibly during the Holloway fire.  

While enough sites were not sampled to say anything statistically, the general distribution observed during sampling will allow LCT to recolonize areas without fish from both the upper and lower portions of the drainages.  The one exception is Cottonwood Creek which has a natural fish barrier due to a head-cut.  Sampling of two locations above the head-cut barrier in 2005 observed fish densities of 0.01 to 0.50 fish/m2.  Lahontan cutthroat trout from Whitehorse Creek should be reintroduced above this barrier once water returns. 

Dave Banks

District Fish biologist

Malheur Fish District

Thanks for the update Tom - and thanks to ODFW and the dedicated District Staff [Dave banks and Shannon Hurn] for all the effort for our natives!!