The fisheries crew for the White River National Forest has been working for years to develop a better understanding of the existence and whereabouts of native cutthroat trout populations. While the fisheries team had already surveyed many front-country tributaries, much was still unknown about remote streams in the Forest.
In 2015, Eagle River Watershed Council, with support from the National Forest Foundation's Ski Conservation Fund, teamed up with Matt Grove, Aquatic Specialist, and the fisheries crew to find a solution to this problem. With many of our supporters frequenting the backcountry by foot and bike, we figured we could tap into their excursions and complete some surveying at the same time. Thus was born the Citizen Science: Native Cutthroat Populations in the Upper Colorado Watershed project.
In the fall of 2015, 12 volunteers were trained as our first crop of Citizen Scientists. Their tasks were two-fold: first, to help identify populations of cutthroat trout in streams; and second, to assess streams for their suitability to host cutthroat trout populations.
To accomplish the first task, volunteers and Forest Service employees collected fin clip DNA samples on ten streams. Eight of the streams have been identified as having 99%-pure populations of cutthroat trout! These results are exciting and encouraging. In addition, two more populations of cutthroat trout were detected by using a technique called environmental DNA. This technique is able to detect the presence of cutthroat trout in a stream by analyzing DNA collected from a simple water sample.
Their second task was accomplished by assessing the physical habitat of potential streams. Volunteers examined the substrate (the composition of the river bed), the ratio of riffles and pools, and other variables to determine whether a stream could potentially house a transplanted population of cutthroat trout.
We learned a great deal during the first year of this project and are excited about the possibility of continuing the program into the future! To learn more about this project or to become a citizen scientist, visit Eagle River Watershed Council online.