NATIVE RIO GRANDE CUTTHROAT TROUT RESCUED FROM TRES LAGUNAS FIRE AREA
PECOS – Fisheries biologists with the Department of Game and Fish and the Santa Fe National Forest removed 49 Rio Grande cutthroat trout from a small creek threatened by the Tres Lagunas wildfire this week, ensuring the pure strain of native fish will survive if the fire threatens its watershed.
A crew of 10 hiked two miles up Macho Creek, about three miles southwest of Terrero, and used electroshocking equipment to stun and net the trout. The 5- to 10-inch fish were then taken to the Department of Game and Fish Seven Springs Hatchery near Fenton Lake for safekeeping. The fish will be returned to Macho Creek if it is spared by the fire.
“Although the fire so far appears to be headed away from the creek, we decided to be proactive and make sure the population is safe,” Department Fisheries Chief Mike Sloane said. “There are few remaining pure populations of Rio Grande cutthroats in the Pecos drainage. Each population is critical to long-term persistence and stock for future restorations.”
The Tres Lagunas Fire that started May 30 in Pecos Canyon grew to 9,217 acres Tuesday and was 15 percent contained. The fire and drought conditions throughout the region prompted the Santa Fe National Forest to close its Pecos and Las Vegas ranger districts and the Pecos Wilderness to all entry. The Department of Game and Fish also closed all Game Commission-owned properties in Pecos Canyon.
Although not listed as threatened or endangered, the Rio Grande cutthroat trout – New Mexico’s State Fish – is considered a candidate for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Ongoing restoration efforts by the Department of Game and Fish are focused on expanding existing populations and keeping the popular game fish off endangered species lists.
“The fish in Macho Canyon are considered a ‘core conservation’ population of pure-strain native trout, “ said Chantel Cook, fisheries biologist for the Santa Fe National Forest. “These fish are important to the species and recovery efforts because of their genetic diversity.” She said there are several other core conservation populations of the trout that could be threatened if the fire expands.
The Rio Grande cutthroat inhabits about 84 streams in northern New Mexico. Its occupied habitat is about 11 percent of its historic range.
The cutthroats removed from Macho Creek are being held in an outdoor raceway at Seven Springs Hatchery, where they are being fed insects caught in electric bug zappers. Hatchery Manager Tony Jacobson said this is the third time in seven years the hatchery has been used to care for fish from areas impacted by wildfires.