The president of the newly formed Truckee TU Chapter Stefan McLeod's impassioned testimony to the Lahontan Water Board (LWB), along with NBTU's past president John Regan's many years of bird dogging, has led to the final chapter in the fight to save the Paiute Cutthroat. NBTU began field trips to the Silver King Creek area over twenty years ago and, along with the CA Dept. of Fish & Game (now the CA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife), found a solution to saving this species. In 2014, the CA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife rotenoned a protion of Silver King Creek to eliminate non-native fish which would interbreed with the wild Paiute.
Paiute Cutthroat Trout - Oncorhynchus clarki seleniris
The Paiute cutthroat trout is a member of the Salmonidae (trout and salmon) family. It is distinguishable from other cutthroat trout by the absence or near absence of body spots. Body spots are the diagnostic character that distinguishes the Paiute cutthroat from the Lahontan cutthroat. Paiute cutthroat trout rarely have more than five body spots; Lahontan cutthroat trout typically possess 50 to 100 body spots and may have more. A secondary distinguishing character is body color. Lahontans typically have a coppery to purplish-pink body color, whereas Paiutes from comparable streams are normally yellowish to light green.
Paiute Cutthroat Trout have survived for thousands of years exclusively in the watershed of Silver King Creek and its isolated tributaries in Alpine County. By the early 1970's, Paiute cutthroat trout had reached such low population levels that they were near extinction. The US Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the Paiute cutthroat trout be placed on the Federal Endangered Species list.
The main causes of the Paiute's demise were; hybridization, competition with introduced trout species, and habitat degradation caused by poor range management. The introduction of rainbow trout to Silver King Creek by unnamed sources in the 1950's and 60's had caused hybridization and the loss of important pure Paiute cutthroat genetics. Small tributaries to Silver King Creek still hold a pure strain of Paiute cutthroat trout. Hybridization can be a double- edged sword, by not only losing important genetics, but also the competition for valuable food sources.
Sheepherders have utilized Silver King Creek since the late 1800's and cattle grazing began in the 1950's. However, poor range management has led to extensive habitat degradation.
Finally, in 1985, the United States Forest Service (USFS) developed a Paiute Cutthroat Trout Recovery Plan that involved the California Department of Fish and Game, and Trout Unlimited volunteers, spearheaded by the North Bay Chapter. The plan focused on habitat restoration above Llewellyn Falls at Silver King Creek. From 1986 to 1993, over 400 TU volunteers worked tirelessly on restoration projects to improve the Paiute habitat. In-stream log structures were installed in the creek to stabilize the bank and reduce siltation, and solar powered exclusionary fencing was erected to prevent further habitat degradation from grazing. The majority of hybridized fish in the area above the falls were removed through electro-shocking and transported to high mountain lakes. Almost ten years later, all the hard work resulted in an increased population of only pure strain Paiute Cutthroat trout above Llewellyn Falls.
Trout Unlimited continues to spearhead the work on Silver King Creek while relying on the cooperative agencies for scientific and logistical support. We are planning the next phase of the project in conjunction with the agencies and will provide an abundance of volunteer labor as well as funding for equipment, materials, and transportation. The project for this next phase will extend the range of the Paiute trout below Llewellyn Falls to an additional six miles of native stream. The same successful methods will be used as in 1993. Most of the hybridized fish will be removed by electro-shocking (see photo at right).
The fish will be moved downstream below the barrier falls for angling. Any remaining hybrids will be eradicated from the six miles of stream. Healthy Paiute trout will then be reintroduced to their original habitat. A successful reintroduction of the Paiute Cutthroat Trout to the entire length of Silver King Creek could ultimately result in the Paiute Cutthroat being the first fish species removed from the Federal Endangered Species List.
Above all, the greatest benefit will be to the survival of the Paiute Cutthroat trout by restoring the species to their native runs and ultimately being de-listed from the Endangered Species List, a first in fisheries.