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Biodiversity: Statewide collaboration helps endangered Colorado River fish survive through drought summer

Early survey results suggest decent spawning and survival rates

Bureau of Reclamation Biologist Dave Speas holds a hatchery raised endangered bonytail chub captured in Lodore Canyon in September. Photo courtesy Tom Chart/Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Cooperation between water users and state and federal agencies — as well as timely summer rains — helped maintain flows for four native and endangered Colorado River fish this summer.

While the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program wasn’t able to meet its dry-year flow goals of 810 cubic feet per second at Palisade, Grand Valley and upstream water managers worked cooperatively to maintain an average flow of 500 cfs this summer, well above the flows during Colorado’s last significant drought in 2002.

And warm temperatures in the river, while not optimal for non-native trout, may have helped some of the young endangered fish like the Colorado Pikeminnow put on a bit of extra weight, a key factor to surviving their first winter, said Tom Chart, director of the interagency recovery effort.

“Everybody breath a  sigh of relief when September came around,” Chart said. “We were in a better position with upstream reservoir storage … and we managed to limp through.” Continue reading

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Feds issue report card on Colorado River fish recovery

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Ben Schleicher holds an endangered bonytail captured in the Gunnison River in western Colorado in 2011. Bonytail are being raised in hatcheries and stocked in Upper Colorado River Basin rivers in an effort to establish self-sustaining populations. PHOTO COURTESY UPPER COLORADO RIVER ENDANGERED FISH RECOVERY PROGRAM.

Oil pipeline breaks, nonnative fish and low flows seen as key threats to recovery efforts

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal officials say they are generally satisfied with the progress on recovering four native Colorado River fish species, but concerned that the impacts of the 2012 drought could result in some setbacks to the program.

Issuing a “sufficient progress”memo, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said this week that, “with continued cooperation by all Recovery Program participants, the Recovery Program will continue to make significant strides toward recovery of the four endangered fishes.”

But flows are a significant concern, especially in dry years.

“The Recovery Program still struggles to meet flow recommendations in drought years. The Service emphasizes the importance of meeting the flow recommendation,” according to the memo, which also says that the Colorado Water Conservation Board has not yet provided a required depletion accounting report. Continue reading

Colorado: Low flows hit endangered fish recovery efforts

U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological technician Rick Smaniotto captured this endangered Colorado pikeminnow in a fish passage at the Redlands Water and Power Company Diversion Dam on the Gunnison River near Grand Junction, Colo., on July 3, 2002. The fish weighed 16.8 pounds and measured 37 inches. After collecting research data, the fish was tagged and returned to the river. PHOTO COURTESY USFWS.

Agencies won’t be able to operate crucial fish passages this summer

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Historic low river flows already have put the squeeze on endangered native Colorado River fish in key tributaries like the Yampa, and the fish could take another hit because there won’t be enough water during parts of the summer to operate fish passages that enable species like the Colorado pikeminnow to reach spawning areas.

Along with the pikeminnow, the razorback sucker, bonytail and humpback chub are listed as endangered and under the jurisdiction of a cooperative, federal-led recovery effort. The four fish once ranged widely throughout the Colorado River Basin, but construction of dams and massive diversions destroyed most of their habitat. The native fish have also faced fierce competition from non-native fish. Continue reading

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