Friends of Our Watershed is a new segment of our water program newsletter where we introduce you to important species that share our local watershed.

Beautiful Brookies

Imagine taking in the crisp air while listening to the soothing flows of a small and remote mountain stream. Do you see some fish swimming around with a greenish, brownish or even greyish color and a marble-like skin? Are there any red dots along the flanks that are encircled by blue halos? Do you notice red and orange colors on the belly? If all of these come together, you’re likely looking at the beautiful brook trout (Salvelinus Fontinalis). Photo: Brett Henderson.

Brook trout, or “brookies”, typically live in large and small lakes, rivers, streams, creeks, and spring ponds. Tenacious brookies can even be found in remote, small mountain streams. While they can inhabit a variety of waters, they require cold and clean water and they are very sensitive to poor oxygenation and acidity. Larger fish can also be very stressed by warm summer temperatures and low flow rates.

Brook trout are a very popular sport fish for fly-fishing as many anglers are attracted by their beautiful colors and jewel-like appearance. One great place in the Gunnison Country to spot these beauties is Dutchman Creek. Dutchman Creek is a small creek in the Cochetopa region that is home to a healthy population of small brookies. It’s also a great place for hiking, biking and fishing.

What Dutchman Creek does not currently have is an existing instream flow protection. An instream flow is a legal water right to protect a quantified minimum amount of water in a stream, which can help protect minimum flows for fisheries against future water appropriations. By thinking ahead, we want to help protect our beautiful brookies by ensuring that they have enough water to live in well into the future. That’s why this January HCCA teamed up with Western Resource Advocates and local consultants to propose an instream flow recommendation that would protect Dutchman Creek’s natural environment and beautiful brookies. Photo: Julie Nania

To learn more about Dutchman Creek, check out the instream flow proposal and sign on your support.
Caring for Cutthroats

cutthroat troutWhich of our friends has a beautiful greenish-blue back, silvery sides, abundant spots, and signature orange and red slashes near their lower jaw? You guessed it—the cutthroat trout! These colorful salmonoids are native to Colorado and are typically found at elevations of over 7,000 feet. Unfortunately, our most beautiful native fish is now one of the most imperiled.
Cutthroat have long been impacted by settlement on the Western Slope. In the mid-1800s, discovery of gold in our headwaters led to some of the first issues with habitat destruction. Today, dams, road creation, logging, mining, water diversions and withdrawals, introduction of other fish species, hybridization, and climate change are all contributing factors to the decline of our native friends. Although the cutthroat is still not nationally listed as a threatened or endangered species, the State of Colorado manages Colorado Cutthroat Trout as a sensitive species in recognition of the challenges facing these fish.
At HCCA, we strive to help protect our sleek and fishy friends in the Gunnison River Basin. Last year, we joined forces with Western Resource Advocates to defend a contested instream flow appropriation for Schaefer Creek, in the North Fork of Gunnison County. Schaefer Creek has a population of 96% genetically pure cutthroat trout, making it of “greatest conservation significance” to the U.S. Forest Service. An instream flow protection for Schaefer Creek has been officially approved by the State, meaning that the creek and its invaluable native cutthroat trout population will be permanently protected against future diversions!
This year we are working toward additional instream flow protections on Brush Creek and Coal Creek in partnership with American Rivers. Brush Creek also houses an incredible cutthroat trout fishery and is a favorite fishing and recreation destination for Crested Butte locals and visitors alike. The proposed instream flow protection for Brush Creek will ensure that spring, summer, and fall flows can support these breeding populations of the cutthroats for generations to come. We spent the majority of the summer and fall soliciting community support for our proposal, and we can’t wait to see the outcome in January, 2017.

Beaver Fever (Part 1/2)

American_BeaverLeave it to the beavers. Among the largest living rodents in the world, these web-footed creatures with thick fur and scale-covered tails are a keystone species in our local watershed. As a keystone species, many other species rely and depend on beavers. When beaver are removed from an ecosystem, that ecosystem may change drastically. Eighty-five percent of all wildlife depends on a beaver or beaver-created habitat at some point in their lives. Beaver use strong and powerful teeth to fell trees to construct their homes and dams.These lodges and dams are woven together with sticks, grasses, and moss then plastered with mud. Beavers are pretty incredible architects!

Beaver dams can impact local waterways. Dams can cause flooding and may alter the flow of a river. These industrious fellas may even plug up a culvert. At the same time, beaver dams slow down water velocity, help prevent soil erosion, and can help to reduce sedimentation while improving water quality. Beaver ponds create habitat for endangered wildlife and plants and promote overall biodiversity.

Beaver Deceivers (Part 2/2)

rm9804aIn our previous Friends of our Watershed we learned all about beavers. Despite the numerous services and benefits that this keystone species brings to our local ecosystem, many landowners find them to be a nuisance. Until recently, in many states you could simply purchase a permit to shoot, trap, or drown beavers indiscriminately. Within one century, our country’s beaver population has dropped from 60 million to 100,000.

There are many different ways that humans and beavers can coexist. Beaver dams that lead to flooding are typically the largest nuisance for most homeowners and often occur when beavers dam a culvert. Luckily, there are many different ways that these issues can be resolved without shooting, trapping, or drowning our furry friends. Allowing beavers to remain in an area while solving the specific problem (for example, a felled tree or flooded yard) can also preserve the benefits our watersheds garner from our beaver friends.

One interesting tool that we would like to highlight is a Beaver Deceiver, which is a trapezoidal shaped culvert fence that was invented in the 1990s. You can use one of these fences to block the culvert, and the fence forces the beavers to build their dam in a direction away from the culvert. By using this type of flow device, you can sustain the many beneficial qualities that beavers bring to our ecosystems, while reducing the impacts of flooding with an inexpensive technology that requires little maintenance.