Gila Trout Reintroduction Being Explored

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The Arizona Game and Fish Department, in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service, is exploring the possible reintroduction of the Gila trout, one of Arizona's two native trout species, to an area near Payson.

Gila trout have been extirpated from Arizona. The Spruce Creek, New Mexico lineage of Gila trout is in danger of extinction from wild-land fires. A proposal to reintroduce this strain of Gila trout to Dude Creek northeast of Payson is being explored. The Forest Service is conducting public hearings on the proposal in Payson and Phoenix this week. Game and Fish personnel will attend those hearings.

The Payson Ranger District, in response to a request from the Game and Fish Department, has initiated an analysis into the feasibility and related issues of reintroducing Gila trout into Dude Creek, which is located in northern Gila County at the base of the Mogollon Rim.

The Phoenix meeting is Jan. 28 from 7-9 p.m. at the La Quinta Inn, 2501 W. Greenway Road (just off Interstate 17).

The headwaters of Dude Creek are approximately two miles east of the East Verde River subdivision of Washington Park. About 1.5 miles of Dude Creek are perennial, with flows becoming subterranean above the confluence with Dry Dude Creek, and continuing intermittently until joining the East Verde River downstream.

Historically, Dude Creek supported a cold water fishery of native fish. Rainbow and Brook trout, both non-native species, were introduced into the stream as early as 1935 and had self-sustaining populations. The portions of Dude Creek proposed for the reintroduction effort are within the boundaries of the 1990 Dude Fire that killed all the resident fish. Existing natural barriers have prevented re-colonization of this creek.

The new livestock permute for the Dude Creek allotment recently approved the reintroduction concept, and is interested in seeing the results of the public scoping process.

Kirk Young, native fish program manager for Game and Fish, explained that the Gila trout is a federally listed species that is native to Arizona. Gila trout have been shown to hybridize readily with other trout species when in the same streams. Pure strains of the Gila trout most directly related to the specimens of Gila trout collected from the Verde River drainage currently occur in only two streams in New Mexico.

"Department and other fisheries biologists believe the watershed and associated uplands for those two Gila trout streams in New Mexico are at risk of catastrophic fires that could contribute to total elimination of those populations. In response to this threat of extinction, the department would like to transplant this pure strain of Gila trout into Dude Creek," Young said.

Department biologist said that the successful re-establishment of one more population of this strain would allow a proposal for down-listing of this species to threatened status. "Recovery and eventual delisting of the Gila trout depends upon re-establishing this fish to historic sites that provide sufficient habitat quality and quantity that will enable this species to successfully reproduce and thrive within its historic range," Young pointed out.

A decision on whether to reintroduce Gila trout into Dude Creek is anticipated by June 1999. Those who cannot attend the meeting can provide comments in writing, in person, or by phone to Don Pollock, Zone Wildlife Biologist, Payson Ranger District, (520) 474-7900. Please provide comments by Feb. 20.

"The tremendous success of the re-establishment of the native Apache trout in Arizona provides us a terrific model to work from. We are confident that should this Gila trout reintroduction effort become reality, we will have fishable populations of Gila trout for people to enjoy in the not-too-distant future," Young said.

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