BY JEFF SWANSON
Daily Press writer
The Yampa River Basin Partnership presented the final draft of its management plan Thursday night at the Shadow Mountain Clubhouse to a less hostile crowd than they usually address.
The group is in charge of the recovery efforts for four native Colorado River Basin fish the pike minnow, bonytail, humpback chub and the razorback sucker.
All four fish are part of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which was established to conserve threatened and endangered species. The Act requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to consider the status of, and potential threats to, plant and animal species in determining whether it is appropriate to list these species as threatened or endangered.
"We basically wanted to get everyone together tonight and give you an update on what we have accomplished to this point, and where we are planning on going in the future," said Gerry Roehm, instream flow coordinator for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. "What we are trying to do is let everyone know how this recovery went, as well as some of the things we are looking to do in the future. This has been a long process, and we are not done yet, so we want to shed some light on what we've done."
The recovery program includes the entire Colorado River Basin, which encompasses the majority of the rivers that flow into Lake Powell in Southern Utah. The San Juan Basin currently has its own recovery program different from that being used in the Colorado Basin.
Biologists have been removing non-native predator fish, such as the northern pike and channel catfish, from the Yampa River near Milner to the Green River in Utah in an effort to help re-establish populations of the native endangered species.
"I really believe that what they are doing is going to eventually hurt some of the summer tourism dollars that we get from people who come out here to catch some of the big pike that are in the river," Craig B.A.S.S President Burt Clements said. "As far as the bass fishing goes, it appears as though this won't affect it much.
"One thing we are worried about is if they take smallmouth bass out of the Yampa River and put them into Elkhead Reservoir, it is going to deplete the number of bass in the river," he said. "That is not going to be good for the future of the Yampa River."
The recovery program is also looking at increasing the water flow in the Yampa by drawing from Steamboat Lake and Stagecoach and Elkhead reservoirs.
The augmented flow would create a more stable environment for the native species, and reduce the ability for the predatory fish to prey on them.
"We want to look at every viable alternative," Roehm said. "We want to make sure that we just don't get rid of these predatory fish, but establish an environment where the native fish can once again thrive."
Over the last two years, removal of northern pike has been the group's main goal, along with the re-stocking of the native fish, and Roehm said they are making progress.
"We have heard that you can catch about half the number of pike that you used to, in about twice the time it took before," he said. "So we are starting to see a reduction in the number of fish."
The northern pike that are removed as part of the program are being transplanted into Rio Blanco Reservoir and the State Wildlife Ponds near Hayden.
"We plan on continuing the removal efforts once we can get started up again next year," Roehm said. "Hopefully, we can continue to see the kinds of gains that we have over the last two. This is not an easy process, but we are making headway."