Elkhead Reservoir remedy closer but still undecided
Colorado Parks and Wildlife representatives attended a joint meeting on Tuesday night with the Craig City Council and Moffat County Commissioners, among other local officials, to talk about the Elkhead Reservoir situation.
The reservoir is home to some species of nonnative fish and drains into the Yampa River. The two species officials are most concerned about are the northern pike and small mouth bass. Both of these species are escaping into the Yampa and eating endangered fish.
Craig city officials are working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s recovery program team to decide on a strategy for improving the situation.
The goal of tonight’s meeting, according to senior aquatic biologist at Colorado Parks and Wildlife Sherman Hebein, was to inform stakeholders and decision-makers in Craig and Moffat County.
“My goal was to provide information to decision makers of Moffat County to help them understand and make informed decisions down the road,” Hebein said.
During his presentation about the different options available for taking care of the Elkhead Reservoir, Hebein said CPW favors a phased approach that begins with a net on the reservoir’s spillway.
Going with the net would also allow CPW to try and expand the number of species in the reservoir to include tiger muskie and wipers, pending approval by the recovery program partners.
The net option appealed to the officials at the meeting more than the other two options; draining the Elkhead Reservoir or using a chemical called rotenone to kill fish and repopulate with black crappie, bluegill, largemouth bass and trout.
Funding and approval from the state dam safety engineer office are the only obstacles CPW currently sees with using the net option.
Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers commended the idea of the net and said he liked it “much better” than the idea of using rotenone.
The Elkhead Reservoir is home to many of Moffat County’s recreational activities and is one of the natural assets many residents hold close to their hearts.
“I think it’s a sad day when we put those (animals) ahead of human need, and I think that’s what’s happening here,” Craig City Council member Kent Nielson said. “I wish there was a way that we could do this so we could benefit the people and I don’t know if there is.”
But CPW is determined to find a solution that benefits area residents and simultaneously recover fish populations.
“If there’s anything I value, it’s a happy angler, and I’d still like to think we can achieve that,” Hebein said. “I want to try something a little bit different; the net, a change in regulation, anglers removing as many northern pike and smallmouth bass as they can (from the Elkhead Reservoir), we do the same thing and we do the same thing in the river in various places, and we can get there.”
City Manager Jim Ferree said he had a conference call with CPW officials on Tuesday morning and was also glad to hear about the inclination toward using a screen.
Ferree said after more questions are answered, CPW will schedule a town hall meeting for sometime in late January or early February.
With an above-average snowpack following a snowy winter, local firefighters and wildlife experts are expecting a mild fire season this year, especially at higher elevations.