The Apache trout is doing so well it should be removed from the Endangered Species List, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The native Arizona trout joins a rarefied list of once endangered animals that have recovered.
So far, 54 U.S. species have made it off the list due to their recovery and another 56 have moved from endangered to threatened — which includes the native Gila trout.
Another 20 have been delisted because they died out.
That leaves 1,618 endangered and threatened species in the U.S.
That makes the recovery of the Apache trout in 600 miles of stream front in Arizona a rare piece of good news in the plight of endangered species.
After half a century of effort, the USFWS has published a proposed delisting, according to a release by Arizona Game and Fish.
The proposal would delist the trout — but would continue to fund cooperative management agreements with the White Mountain Apache Tribe and Arizona Game and Fish.
The recovery of the Apache trout could also point the way to the recovery of the Gila trout, now also grown in hatcheries and released into both recovery streams and recreational streams. For instance, Gila trout are now released each year into the East Verde River to support a recreational fishery.
The USFWS will post its proposed rule for delisting of the Apache trout in the Federal Register before the end of the year, which starts a 60-day comment period.
The decision comes after a five-year review of the status of the Apache trout, which is now raised in a network of state and federal fish hatcheries. Recovery efforts have established 30 distinct lineages of the iconic Arizona fish. The native trout narrowly avoided extinction due to dams, water diversions and the massive release of non-native brown and rainbow trout in the streams the Apache trout once dominated. The gleaming native trout held out in several isolated headwater tributaries of the White and Black Rivers on the White Mountain Apache Reservation.
The White Mountain Apache saved the species by closing fishing on those remote headwater stream sections in 1955.
Arizona Game and Fish and the USFWS figured out how to breed the sensitive native trout in several hatcheries, eventually producing enough trout to return to hundreds of miles of Arizona streams. The trout has recovered sufficiently for anglers to seek the unique experience of catching the recovered trout — mostly in streams in the White Mountains. That was only possible as a result of expensive efforts to remove non-native trout on key stream sections and then building fish barriers to keep out the non-native fish.
The Apache trout is Arizona’s official fish. Game and Fish grows Apache trout in the Silver Creek and Tonto Creek hatcheries.
Apache trout once lived in large numbers in virtually every cold, clear, high-altitude stream in the White Mountains. Accounts by settlers and the U.S. Army in the 1800s indicate you could catch hundreds of the native trout in a short time in many stream stretches. The trout can live up to nine years.
The review suggested that it takes somewhere between 500 and 5,000 trout in a given stream reach to establish a stable, diverse population.