Colorado Parks and Wildlife to answer Elkhead questions in Craig | CraigDailyPress.com

Colorado Parks and Wildlife to answer Elkhead questions in Craig

First public meeting on non-native fish to take place Thursday

Janelle O'Dea

— On Thursday, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will give the public its first chance to ask questions about the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and Elkhead Reservoir fish management.

The open house will begin at 6 p.m. on Thursday at Craig City Hall, 300 W. Fourth St.

For the past year, Parks and Wildlife has been observing how to decrease or eliminate non-native fish from Elkhead Reservoir that are seeping into the Yampa River and eating endangered fish that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to protect.

Various options were discussed in the past, including draining the reservoir and poisoning the non-native fish, only to restock the reservoir months later with non-threatening fish. At a December meeting with the Moffat County Commissioners and the Craig City Council, Elkhead officials announced plans to try placing a net over the spillway that releases water into the Yampa River in order to stop non-native species from getting into the river.

Local officials walked away from that meeting still with questions and the goal of Thursday's open house is to answer some of those questions.

For now, poisoning the reservoir with rotenone is off of the table.

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“We are going to proceed with our net option first,” Parks and Wildlife spokesman Mike Porras said. “It is the primary option for now. That will give us time to review the fishery and look at other management options.”

Future plans include evaluating the net, and if it does not work as officials were hoping, “then the rotenone treatment will be revisited,” Porras said.

Different state representatives will be available for questions at various tables set up throughout the room on Thursday.

"People who attend will learn what they can do to help us achieve what we all want, and that is to bring this recovery effort to a successful conclusion,” said Parks and Wildlife Senior Aquatic Biologist Sherman Hebein in a press release. “We understand that people have questions and concerns, so we welcome this opportunity.”

The two fish that are eating the endangered fish are the northern pike and smallmouth bass. The challenge comes when trying to control or eliminate the non-native fish without harming the endangered fish.

"It's very difficult for any agency or this program to explain every detail and every nuance without this kind of forum where we can actually talk directly with people and explain face to face what is going on with this program," Porras said.

Craig City Councilor and 2015 mayoral candidate Don Jones said he sent several questions to Hebein ahead of time to give him time to prepare answers.

Current Craig Mayor Terry Carwile said he also has a number of questions to ask come Thursday.

"I want to know if they've got any (predation) numbers from above the inlet where Elkhead Creek empties into the reservoir," Carwile said. "We know it's significant, but I wonder if they can break it down into reasonable parts."

Carwile would also like to know how far along CPW is in collecting the funds needed for the net.

The reservoir acts as one of Moffat County's prime fishing and recreational spots throughout the summer, and several community members and government officials are nervous about how to maintain its viability through this process.

A day before the open house, at 7 a.m. on Wednesday at The Memorial Hospital, the Craig Daily Press will host its monthly Coffee and a Newspaper event also to discuss the Elkhead Reservoir situation. Daily Press Publisher Renee Campbell and Managing Editor Noelle Leavitt Riley will moderate the event.

"Hopefully, we can have an open discussion about what people are going to ask Parks and Wildlife on Thursday in regards to the Elkhead Reservoir issues," Campbell said.

Contact Janelle O’Dea at 970-875-1795 or jodea@CraigDailyPress.com or follow her on Twitter @jayohday.