« Return to this article

for people who care about the West

Golden trout swimming in troubled waters

 

CALIFORNIA

Though it appears on the state flag, the California grizzly bear was annihilated from the state decades ago. Now, the state fish, the California golden trout, could disappear.

The historical range of the trout is limited to two drainages in the southern Sierra Nevada: the South Fork of the Kern River and Golden Trout Creek. Today, the California Department of Fish and Game says the species is "secure" in only 4 percent of its historical range due to interbreeding with rainbow trout, competition from brown and brook trout, and erosion and poor water quality caused by livestock grazing.

U.S. Forest Service fisheries biologist Lisa Sims says her agency is resting grazing allotments in the area, "but the historical impacts can't heal as fast we'd like them to." The Forest Service and the state are also eradicating non-native fish and creating physical barriers, such as rock walls, to safeguard genetically pure golden trout populations * with mixed success.

Now, after years of pressure and a lawsuit from the conservation group Trout Unlimited, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will spend the coming year investigating whether to list the golden trout under the Endangered Species Act.

Scott Yates of Trout Unlimited says California golden trout recovery efforts will be easier to coordinate than other species because the fish's historic habitat is relatively small and confined, and only on public lands. "If we could get our hands around this," says Yates, "it could be a real recovery success story."