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Compliments ofThe Silver City Daily Press Wednesday, December 1, 1999

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Gila Trout May Be Downlisted

The Associated Press
   SILVER CITY -- Biologists are expected to recommend moving the Gila trout from the endangered list to the threatened list, the first step in opening up on or more southwestern New Mexico streams to fishing.
   The recommendation is included on the agenda for the annual meeting of the Gila Trout Recovery Team, Dec. 9-10 in Albuquerque. The agenda sets aside 2 1/2 hours for the issue.
   If accepted, downlisting could lead to opening streams in the Gila and/or Aldo Leopold wildernesses to fishing, an action long anticipated during a two-decade-plus effort to restore fishable populations of the area's only native trout.
   If the trout were downlisted, sport fishing could be legalized under the Endangered Species Act.
   The Gila trout was one of the original 30 species listed for protection under the 1973 law. Since then, its populations have risen from about 10,000 fish to an estimated 50,000 to 60,000.
   The recovery team's leader, state Game and Fish Department biologist David Propst, was not available for comment because he was attending a fisheries conference in Mexico.
   Propst told community meetings in Reserve and Glenwood earlier this year that establishing a Gila trout fishery would offer anglers the chance to catch a trout found nowhere else in the world, and would bring in fishermen and tourist dollars.
   At the public meetings, he laid out a timetable for downlisting, contingent on introducing the species into an Arizona stream and removing hybrid trout from Little Creek in Catron County.
   A recent report from the New Mexico agency said transplanting the endangered trout from the Gila Wilderness into Arizona's Dude Creek in September was successful. The stocking was "a major step toward downlisting," Propst has said.
   The fish was once abundant throughout the Gila River drainage. But the introduction of the non-native rainbow and brown trout, overfishing and the depletion of habitat greatly reduced its numbers and range.
   Efforts are continuing to remove the non-native species from Little Creek, said Barry Wiley, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fisheries biologist.
   "We're well on our way to having Little Creek ready to go," he said this week. "We're more or less just confirming that it's ready (for Gila trout transplanting)."
   The administrative process for downlisting a species usually takes about two years once a request is published in the Federal Register. Still, Fish and Wildlife Services biologist Jim Brooks has called the downlisting a high priority, saying the agency wants it done quickly.
   Propst and Brooks have conceded that legal challenges are likely from environmental groups, which could delay the process.
   The meeting's agenda also includes discussion of using antimycin to kill fish and other organisms before Gila trout are introduced. Fishermen and others have expressed concern that insects and amphibians are being killed en masse as a consequence of the recovery efforts.
   And some critics contend replacing the self-sustaining wild trout with hatchery-raised Gila trout is not in the best interest of the Gila National Forest trout fishery. Propst has said that from a fisheries management standpoint, the Gila trout is better for the Gila River because they are more tolerant than rainbow trout of higher water temperatures and low stream flows.


Gila Trout Recommended To Be Downlisted

By STEPHEN SIEGFRIED
Daily Press Staff

A multiagency task force managing Gila trout recovery efforts has recommended the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downlist the fish from endangered to threatened.

The decision to recommend downlisting was made during the Gila Trout Recovery Team's annual meeting on Thursday in Albuquerque. The change in protective status would represent the first step in opening to anglers streams in the Gila Wilderness known to harbor the rare trout.

Among the original 30 species listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the trout was once abundant throughout the Gila River drainage. Introduction of nonnative rainbow and brown trout, overfishing and degradation of habitat are blamed for greatly reducing populations and the range of the only trout native to the Gila River system.

The recovery team reached its decision after two and one-half hours discussing the proposal for downlisting.

"(The recommendation) doesn't mean the Fish and Wildlife Service will downlist," said Ron Henderson, Grant County representative on the recovery team.

"What it is is a recommendation. If Fish and Wildlife goes along, downlisting won't be overnight," Henderson said, adding that even if the FWS accepts the recovery team's recommendation, the process to downlist could take one to two years.

Henderson said the decision, essentially, came down to whether the objectives of the recovery plan had been met.

"The consensus was that they had," Henderson said.

Among those objectives was the replication of each of the surviving populations in other streams.

At public meetings earlier this year, David Propst, recovery team leader, laid out a timetable for requesting downlisting, saying that it was contingent on introducing into an Arizona stream fish from Spruce Creek in the Gila Wilderness, and removing hybrid trout from Catron County's Little Creek.

A recently released report from the Department of Game and Fish called the Spruce Creek transplant into Arizona's Dude Creek successful. Of the second contingency, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fisheries biologist said last month that Little Creek has been treated to remove the stream's nonnative trout, and that efforts to remove surviving nonnative trout by electroshocking are ongoing.

The change in the trout's status would pave the way to open one or more streams to angling, since once the trout is downlisted from endangered to threatened, sport fishing could be legalized under provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

Provided the FWS accepts the recovery team's recommendation, the request to downlist would be published in the Federal Register. Time would then be allowed for public comment. Typically, the administrative process for downlisting takes about two years from publication. Legal challenges for the proposal to downlist are expected from environmental groups, and could delay the process even further.

The meetings resumed Friday with a discussion of the legal restrictions of the antibiotic antimycin. During the reclamation process, antimycin is metered into streams to kill fish and other aquatic organisms prior to introduction of Gila trout. Fishermen and others have expressed concerns that entire populations of invertebrates, including insects, as well as amphibians during gilled stages, are decimated by the poisoning of streams.

Thursday's session also included a report about hatchery production. Gila trout are being raised in the Mora and Mescalero hatcheries.

Since recovery efforts began, Gila trout populations have risen from about 10,000 fish to an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 by this summer, according to a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

Use of the Glenwood Hatchery as a future site for raising Gila trout was also to be discussed during today's session.

When recovery efforts began, the known populations of pure-strain native trout occupied about 12 miles of wilderness streams. At present, about 50 stream-miles in the Gila National Forest harbor Gila trout, with an additional 15 dedicated to the species.

 

The decision to recommend downlisting was made during the Gila Trout Recovery Team's annual meeting on Thursday in Albuquerque. The change in protective status would represent the first step in opening to anglers streams in the Gila Wilderness known to harbor the rare trout.


Gila Trout may no longer be endangered

By STEPHEN SIEGFRIED
Daily Press Staff

A multiagency task force managing Gila trout recovery efforts has recommended the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downlist the fish from endangered to threatened.

The decision was made during the Gila Trout Recovery Team's annual meetings last week in Albuquerque.

If the FWS accepts the team's recommendation, it is expected to take between 18 and 24 months to complete the downlisting process, according to Ron Henderson, who attended the meeting as a representative of Grant County.

Henderson called the team's action "only a recommendation."

"If Fish and Wildlife goes along, downlisting won't be overnight," he said.

The change in protective status would represent the first step in open-ing to anglers streams in the Gila Wilder-ness known to harbor the rare trout. Once the trout is downlisted, sport fishing, with special restrictions, could be legalized un-der provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

The decision, Henderson said, es-sentially came down to whether the objectives of the recovery plan had been met.

At public meetings earlier this year, David Propst, recovery team leader, laid out a timetable for requesting downlisting. Propst said any change in the status of the species was contingent on introducing into an Arizona stream fish from Spruce Creek in the Gila Wilderness (the last of the five populations to be replicated) and restocking Catron County's Little Creek with native trout.

Henderson said the accomplishment of those objectives, plus surveys indicating transplanted Gila trout were reproducing in each of four streams surveyed during the past year, weighed heavily on the recommendation.

Provided the FWS accepts the recovery team's recommendation, the next step would be to post the request in the Federal Register. Time would then be allowed for public com-ment.

Typically, the administra-tive pro-cess for downlist-ing takes about two years from pub-lication. Legal challenges to the pro-posal to down-list are likely from environmental groups, and could delay the process even fur-ther.

For the only trout native to the Gila River drainage, recovery from the brink of extinction has been an upstream swim. Among the original 30 species listed for protection un-der the En-dangered Species Act of 1973, the trout was once abun-dant throughout the Gila River drainage.

Introduc-tion of non-native rainbow and brown trout, overfishing, and degra-dation of habitat are blamed for greatly re-ducing popula-tions and the range of the native trout. Only five populations of the species remained before recovery efforts began, isolated behind barriers or dry reaches in tiny headwater streams.

Streams known to harbor Gila trout were placed off-limits to fishing in 1958, and a multiagency task force to save the species was formed in 1967. Among the recovery team's objectives was the replication in other streams of each of the surviving pop-ulations.

Efforts to restore the trout to portions of its former range have not gone smoothly. In the early 1990s, heavy and prolonged rains following a forest fire washed ash into one stream, raising the pH and killing the fish. Flash flooding washed out 90 percent of the fish in another stream.

And, as more and more streams were dedicated to Gila trout and closed to fishing, disgruntled anglers became impatient with the program's progress, criticizing its cost and the diversion of resources from other of the state's sports fisheries.

Also discussed during the meetings were the legal re-stric-tions for the use of the antibiotic an-timycin.

During the reclamation process, antimycin is metered into streams to kill fish and other aquatic organisms prior to in-troduc-tion of Gila trout.

Fishermen and others have expressed con-cerns that entire populations of inverte-brates, includ-ing in-sects, as well as am-phibians during gilled stages, are decimated by the poisoning of streams.

The National Envi-ronmental Policy Act process for the dedication of the West Fork of the Gila River as a future transplant site for Gila trout was also addressed during the ses-sions.

When re-cov-ery efforts began, the known popu-la-tions of pure-strain Gila trout occupied about 12 miles of wilder-ness streams.

At present, about 65 stream-miles have been dedi-cated to the species.

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