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Apache trout

The Apache trout (Oncorhynchus gilae apache) once occupied approximately 600 miles of stream habitat in the upper Salt River, San Francisco River, and Little Colorado River watersheds of Arizona [1]. By the 1940s Apache trout occupied fewer than 30 stream miles and occurred in only 12 streams on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation [1, 2]. Overfishing, habitat degradation, and the stocking of nonnative salmonids (starting in 1920 stocking occurred in numerous streams supporting Apache trout) were the cause of this decline [3]. Today, due to recovery efforts, the number of Apache trout in remaining habitat has increased and the number of self-sustaining populations has increased [2]. The Apache trout is now present on the Apache-Sitgreaves, Coronado, and Kaibab National Forests, on Fort Apache Reservation, on Arizona State’s Black River Lands, as well as on private land.

Management for Apache trout began in 1955, when the Fort Apache Indian Tribe banned sportfishing on all streams containing known populations of Apache trout within the boundaries of the Mount Baldy Wilderness Area [4]. In 1963 the White Mountain Apache tribe, in collaboration with the USFWS and Arizona Game and Fish Department, began a captive propagation program using fish taken from some of the 13 pure historic lineages of Apache trout found on the reservation [1]. Before captive bred fish were released, fish barriers were constructed on several streams to prevent upstream migration by exotic fish species [1]. The first stocking attempt occurred in 1965 into Mamie Creek [1]. Early stocking and renovation attempts were not always successful and sometimes hybrid stock were introduced [1]. By the 1970s, when the Apache trout was officially listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, introductions had been made into 12 streams, eight of which historically were known to support Apache trout. Releases at sites outside of the Apache trout’s historic range (e.g. streams in the Pinaleno Mountains and in North Canyon on the Kaibab plateau) were conducted in order to provide angling opportunities [1]. Since 1983, the Alchesay-Williams Creek National Fish Hatchery complex, located on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, has produced several million Apache trout specifically for restoring sport fishery in streams while still maintaining the species' genetic integrity [2].

Restoration and reintroduction efforts have also taken place on federal land [2, 3]. On the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, the construction of barriers to exclude nonnative fish began in 1979 [3]. So far, barriers have been erected in 13 streams with plans to construct them in at least three more by 2006 [3] and numerous streams have been stocked with Apache-trout from the Alchesay-Williams Creek National Fish Hatchery [2]. Also, beginning in the 1980s the exclusion of livestock from streams was initiated and 100 miles of stream on U.S. Forest Service lands were fenced to restore riparian and Apache trout habitat [3].

Currently, the largest concentrations of Apache trout occur on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in the headwaters of the White and Black River drainages [5]. Some of the larger streams such as Bonita Creek and East Fork White River may carry several thousand Apache trout [5]. As of 1995, there were 20 natural pure populations of Apache trout and six introduced pure populations [6]. In 1999, 28 self-sustaining Apache trout populations were reported [2]. This is approaching the recovery criteria of 30 self-sustaining populations outlined in the recovery plan [2]. In addition to the Apache trout in streams, a stock population is maintained at the Alchesay-Williams Creek National Fish Hatchery [5].

Although Apache trout populations have increased, they still face the threat of habitat loss and degradation and non-native trout continue to be stocked in Arizona streams [3]. Stocking of non-natives undoubtedly limits the potential range expansion of Apache trout which still inhabits only a fraction of their former range [7] and necessitates the ongoing monitoring and maintenance of barriers to insure effectiveness [3].

[1] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1983. Arizona Trout (Apache trout) Recovery Plan . Albuquerque, NM.
[2] Springer, C.L. 1999. Apache Trout: on the brink of recovery. Endangered Species Bulletin XXIV(4).
[3] Robinson, A. T., L. D. Avenetti, and C. Cantrell. 2004. Evaluation of Apache trout habitat
protection actions. Arizona Game and Fish Department, Research Branch, Technical Guidance
Bulletin No. 7, Phoenix. 19pp.
[4] Arizona Game and Fish Department. 2004. Apache trout chronology. Webpage <http://www.gf.state.az.us/w_c/apache_chronology.shtml> accessed April, 2006.
[5] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Apache Trout Species Profile. Website accessed April, 2006.
[6] Arizona Game and Fish Department. Animal abstract, Apache Trout. Heritage Data Management System. Available at <http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/edits/documents/Oncoapac.fo.pdf>.
[7] New Mexico Game and Fish. 2000. Apache Trout Species Account. Biota Information System of New Mexico BISON version 1/2000. Website <http://www.cnr.vt.edu/fishex/nmex_main/species/010582.htm> accessed April, 2006.

Banner photo © Phillip Colla