G&F seeks community input on cutthroat restoration project

One of a series of meetings billed as an “opportunity to help shape the future of Yellowstone cutthroat trout restoration” was held last week at the Lovell Community Center. Regional Fisheries Supervisor Sam Hochhalter led the meeting with the help of facilitator and educator Tara Kuipers.

The Wednesday night meeting was well attended by Wyoming Game and Fish personnel, Forest Service and fisheries staff, along with a handful of interested community members.

During the meeting Hochhalter asked for recommendations from the public regarding how to proceed with a plan to reintroduce and, in some cases, introduce native cutthroat trout in the area. Hochhalter described the meeting as a “launching point,” and said there would be more meetings to come on the subject, with the explicit goal of targeting certain areas to restore the population of the species.

Regional Fisheries Supervisor Sam Hochhalter speaks to a group of interested citizens in Lovell about the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s native cutthroat trout restoration project.
Patti Carpenter photo

He noted that G&F has an obligation to come up with a plan to conserve the native fish, but at the same time needs to address the concerns and needs of the public. Though not on the endangered list, native cutthroat are in a sharp decline. Hochhalter said G&F is obligated to come up with a plan to restore its numbers before the species disappears altogether.

“We are stewards of your fish and wildlife resources,” Hochhalter told the audience. “You, of course, are the owners and users of that resource.”

The issue of restoring the native cutthroat population is a complex one, according to Hochhalter, in that the species does not thrive when certain non-native species are present, like brook trout. They also tend to hybridize with other species, like rainbow trout. In order to place hatchery-grown cutthroat in a body of water and to have them survive, all species living in a targeted body of water must be killed first, which is generally done with chemicals like Rotenone.

By killing all of the non-native species competition is reduced and the native cutthroat have a better chance of survival.

To complicate matters further, cutthroat require very specific environmental factors to be present for their survival. Since they are not found in great numbers, G&F has set a catch limit that is much lower for cutthroat (three fish) than for many of the other more prolific species (16 fish). The agency also restricts the type of lures that can be used to catch cutthroat trout.

A former fish biologist in the audience suggested G&F start their reintroduction of the species in “historic ranges” rather than trying to introduce them into new areas that might not be as suitable for their survival.

Several in the audience expressed concerns about trying to introduce the species in popular “family friendly” fishing areas like Porcupine Creek, pointing out that young children enjoy fishing more when the catch is easy and the limit is high, like with non-native brook trout.

“If you make it difficult for kids to catch fish they’ll lose interest right away and move on to other things,” said one attendee. “They are the anglers of the future. Fishing has to be a positive experience for them or they won’t want to do it when they grow up.”

Another audience member suggested that cutthroat were more difficult to catch than non-native species because of the restrictions about what can be put on the end of a line.

The sustainability of a species that has so many strict needs was questioned by another attendee, who also questioned the effect of using chemicals in the environment, the length of time it would take for the body of water to recover and be fishable again and the cost of the project.

After a number of attendees expressed concern about Porcupine Creek, Hochhalter assured those attending that it was not one of the areas under consideration, since there had been so much opposition to the idea in the past.

A website has been set up for more information about future meetings and ongoing information about the native cutthroat restoration project. That site can be accessed at https://wgfd.wyo.gov/Get-Involved/Cutthroat-Trout. Hochhalter also said he welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at sam.hochhalter@wyo.gov.

By Patti Carpenter