Restoring trout habitat, one stream at a time

A palm-size brook trout, caught in the Tenmile Creek drainage near Copper Mountain.

Scott Yates, of Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project, honored for restoration work

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — With low stream flows and increasing temperatures taking an increasing toll on aquatic habitat in the West, restoration efforts are more important than ever. Nobody knows this better that Scott Yates, director of Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project.

Yates has been working for years with private landowners and state and federal agencies to try and improve habitat for fish, and this week he was honored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the 2011 Outstanding Partner award for his collaboration with the agency’s national fish passage program, which aims to restore habitat connectivity.

“Yates has worked tirelessly in collaboration with federal, state and private organizations and landowners to improve habitat to enhance populations of native Bonneville, Colorado River and Yellowstone cutthroat trout,” said Scott Roth, the fish passage program coordinator for the Mountain-Prairie region.

According to the award letter, Trout Unlimited has been “extremely successful” in completing various fish passage projects, including migration barrier removal, irrigation canal fish screening, and habitat restoration and enhancement. Specifically, the agency cited Yates and TU staff’s work in eight fish passage projects in the Bear/Green River and Wind/Bighorn River drainages.

In recent years, TU’s Western Water Project has helped to reconnect more than 500 miles of stream habitat for native fish in Wyoming alone.

“They were instrumental in planning, recruiting partners, organizing, and acquiring engineering and often participating in construction for a variety of projects,” said Roth. “Working with their Trout Unlimited researchers, Mr. Yates and his staff utilized best available scientific methods to identify and prioritize projects most beneficial to resident fish populations.

“The secret to restoring connectivity to our nation’s rivers and streams lies in the partnerships we develop,” said Susan Wells, USFWS National Fish Passage program coordinator. “No one organization can do it alone.  It is with our friends like Trout Unlimited and the exceptional people they employ like Mr. Yates are we able to open rivers and streams for trout and other species of fish, allowing them the chance to become self-sustaining and viable populations now and well into the future.  The National Fish Passage Program thanks Mr. Yates for all his hard work and looks forward to the many years of collaboration ahead of us.”

“I am honored to accept this award on behalf of Trout Unlimited,” Yates said. “In the West, aging infrastructure presents an enormous challenge to fish passage, as well as an enormous opportunity to find collaborative solutions that dramatically open up habitat for native fish while complementing private land ranch and farm operations. We’re committed to working with great partners like the USFWS to get things done.”

About the USFWS Fish Passage Program
To meet their life cycle needs, river-dwelling fish migrate between feeding and spawning areas. But their passage is often blocked by the thousands of culverts, dikes, water diversions, dams, and other artificial barriers that have been constructed over the last century to provide water for irrigation, flood control, electricity, and other purposes.

As a result, some populations of native fish have disappeared and others are on the brink of disappearing. An estimated 6 million of these barriers still exist, many of which no longer serve their original purpose and were abandoned years ago. Launched by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1999, the National Fish Passage Program is a voluntary, non-regulatory effort that provides financial and technical assistance to restore aquatic connectivity by removing or bypassing barriers that impede the movement of fish and contribute to their decline.

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