Yampa river plan finally flows


The Yampa River Basin Partnership hosted a meeting that decided the course of the Yampa River. Stakeholders from the Yampa Basin together with local state and federal agencies reached a consensus on a comprehensive plan to manage the Yampa River for the benefit of people and fish. Those in attendance representing the various groups agreed that the management plan will provide for the long term water and recreational needs of the basin, while contributing to the recovery of the four endangered fish species that inhabit the river the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, bonytail and razorback sucker.

The plan was slow in its development. It has been ten years in the making. The plan focuses on taking certain actions to compensate for impacts to the river ecosystem due to human water consumption and preservation of sportfishing opportunities in thee basin. Two major elements make up the plan: stream flow augmentation during low-water conditions and nonnative fish control.

Under the proposed plan, the Yampa river would be augmented to maintain certain targets during low stream flow conditions that periodically occur between mid-July and mid-March. An existing lease with Colorado State Parks for water from Steamboat Lake would be extended to provide a portion of the water needed for this purpose. In addition, Elkhead Reservoir would be enlarged by roughly half of its current size. However, this enlargement would be limited to avoid impacting any existing dwellings. About half of the additional water to be stored at Elkhead would be used to benefit the endangered fishes, while the other half would serve human needs.

The different groups in attendance believe that the competition and predation by nonnative fishes threatens not only the endangered species, but also other native fish species.

The group agreed that the three nonnative species of fish that pose the greatest risk to the native fishes are the northern pike, channel catfish and smallmouth bass, all of which have become established in areas of the river occupied by the endangered fishes. The group wants to implement a of a comprehensive
nonnative fish control program throughout warm water reaches of the Yampa River. According to the groups this will assist in the recovery of the endangered species as well as to prevent other native species from being listed as threatened or endangered in the future.

The channel catfish and northern pike were started to be removed in 1999 by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

They plan to continue to remove nonnative fish from critical habitat in the Yampa River downstream from Craig. In the future, northern pike and smallmouth bass removed from the river will be placed in Elkhead Reservoir which the group claims "could become the premiere fishing spot for northern pike in the Yampa Basin."

Another step in the reduction of northern pike in the river by identifying their spawning habitats and screening these habitats to prevent adult pike from spawning in them. They expect that this will benefit the pike minnow that inhabit this river reach.

In Dinosaur National Monument, the U.S. fish and Wildlife Service will continue to remove channel catfish from the Yampa River within the monument.

They believe that this will help the humpback chub population in the area.

This management plan will be finalized only after additional review and comment by the public and Recovery Program participants.

Additional public meetings will be held in the Yampa Basin in Colorado and Wyoming to solicit additional public input regarding the proposed management plan. For additional information contact Ben Beall, Routt County Commissioner and chairman of the Yampa River Basin Project at (970) 879-0108 or T Wright Dickinson Moffat County Commissioner and cochair of the Yampa River Basin Project at (970) 824-5517.

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