Cutthroat Trout Evacuated From N.M. Fire Area

June 7, 2013
Fearing that silt and runoff from the Tres Laguna Fire will kill trout in the Macho Creek, biologist netted 49 and moved them to a fish hatchery.

June 06--Count 49 Rio Grande cutthroat trout among the evacuees of the Tres Lagunas Fire.

On Monday, a group of 10 fisheries biologists armed with electroshocking equipment hiked two miles up Macho Creek to an area about three miles southwest of Terroro in Pecos Canyon to stun and net the trout.

The fish were then transported to the Department of Game and Fish Seven Springs Hatchery near Fenton Lake. Plans are to return the fish to Macho Creek once it has been deemed safe to do so.

While the wildfire has been moving away from the Macho Creek area, Fish and Game officials said relocating the fish was a proactive measure to preserve their strain.

"It's a native fish that has been in decline," said Dan Williams, a spokesman for the department. "We'd like to restore it to its native habitat and keep it off any endangered species (list) so people can go out and fish for it. For a lot of people it's really a thrill to catch a native trout like that."

The Rio Grande cutthroat trout, which typically measures between 5 and 10 inches long, is New Mexico's state fish. Although the cutthroat isn't listed as threatened or endangered, it is considered a candidate for federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

"There are few remaining populations of Rio Grande cutthroats in the Pecos drainage," said Game and Fish fisheries chief Mike Sloane. "Each population is critical to longterm persistence and stock for future restorations."

Williams said there are no plans to remove more than the 49 trout taken out of Macho Creek.

"That should be enough to preserve strain should fire get up in the watershed," he said. "We're hoping that doesn't happen. But what often happens is flash floods will carry the silt down to rivers and streams and choke out the oxygen and pretty much kills all the fish."

Williams said the department would take a wait-andsee approach before determining whether more fish would be removed from the Pecos River or other streams.

"The fire up there has burned a lot of timber on the hillsides, so there will be silt. Whether that can be mediated before the monsoons come, we'll just have to see," he said.

The Tres Lagunas Fire, which began a week ago, has consumed more than 9,000 acres of forest in the Santa Fe National Forest and Pecos Wilderness, prompting the Forest Service to close the Pecos/Las Vegas ranger district and the wilderness area.

Game and Fish has also closed all Game Commissionowned properties in the Pecos Canyon.

Fire officials called for mandatory evacuations of homes in the area and voluntary evacuations at residences near Cow Creek. So far, no structures have been destroyed.

Copyright 2013 - Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

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