Sometimes you have to move slow to go fast. That’s the case with Bear Creek Watershed Restoration Project and protecting the only pure strand of Colorado Greenback Cutthroat Trout left in the world. To move too fast could mean huge setbacks to the process and could threaten not only the preservation and conservation of the Greenbacks but also impede progress on accessing the Bear Creek Watershed and its trail system. Where are we currently in the process and what looks like next steps in the future for the Greenback Cutthroat Trout and the Bear Creek Watershed?
“Threatened” vs. “Endangered”
The Greenback Cutthroat Trout is considered a "threatened" species. Biologists in Colorado want to keep them that way and NOT shift to an endangered listing. The key federal protections and consultation requirements are in place already since the fish is listed as “threatened”; there is no real reason for conservation interests to push for the up-listing to “endangered.”
Why is this important?
If we rush the process of restoring the Bear Creek Watershed too quickly, we run the risk of having the status of the Greenback Cutthroat Trout shifted from “threatened” to “endangered.” What’s the difference — and why does it matter?
Endangered species - are at the brink of extinction now.
Threatened species - are likely to be at the brink in the near future.
A change in the designation would mean that efforts to repopulate the fish in other areas of the state — which is currently in its very initial stages — could be stalled. A focused effort by many groups — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Forest Service, Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife — is headed in the right direction for long-term preservation of the Greenback Cutthroat Trout.
The “threatened” listing gives the biologists more flexibility on recovery actions and in allowing continued catch-and-release angling as they establish new sites. Some of the work being done right now includes preparing and studying sites for relocating and populating the Greenback species:
Other areas in the state that are being considered for repopulating with Greenback Cutthroat Trout include Rock Creek, a tributary to Tarryall; George and Cornelius Creek - a larger complex of about 14 miles; and Sheep Creek and Roaring Creek. These last two sites have strong cutthroat populations of blue fish (once thought to be greenbacks) and they wish to assess them for feasibility of reclamation projects to go back in with Bear Creek greenbacks.
Bear Creek Trail Restoration
In general, by pushing the work too quickly or pushing the opening of the Bear Creek area could result in a change to “endangered” status that could handcuff current processes and efforts underway. If concerned groups attempt to “force” the opening of Bear Creek trail system, conservation groups will then be forced to change the status of the Greenbacks from “threatened” to “endangered” resulting in everyone losing.
The Rocky Mountain Field Institute (RMFI), in conjunction with the National Forest Service, are taking steps to assess the condition of the trails and to restore the trails for access. Specifically, a number of steps are being taken right now regarding the trail system in the Watershed.
The Forest Service will utilize the results of RMFI’s assessment to determine the feasibility of reopening the trail system closed by Forest Order 14-2. Efforts are continuing to utilize the scientific knowledge to identify new or substantially improved systems, processes, and procedures for the effective rehabilitation of trails contributing sediment to Bear Creek. Discussion about reopening Palmer Loop from High Drive is ongoing and a decision is expected next week.
Other work spearheaded by the RMFI includes
We need to keep on track with the work that is being done now. The steady and consistent work to prepare for repopulating the Greenback Cutthroat in different waters throughout the state are the right efforts. Similarly, the work being done locally to restore the trail system for multi-use — while protecting the current population of this threatened species — is the right work to be done.
Let’s not act in ways that undermine those efforts. Let’s be deliberate and thoughtful in our actions. The right steps taken now — with study and with patience — will have long term positive effects for all concerned.
We need to let the government do their job and keep this ball moving. Any distraction will slow the process, slow the recovery, and slow the opening of Bear Creek.
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