Paiute Cutthroat Trout Reintroduced to Native Habitat in High Sierra Wilderness

California’s native Paiute cutthroat trout, the rarest trout in North America, swims once again in its high Sierra home waters for the first time in more than 100 years.

California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Director Charlton H. Bonham and representatives from the USDA Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Golden Gate Chapter of Trout Unlimited and Little Antelope Pack Station joined biologists to release 30 Paiute cutthroat trout of varying sizes into Silver King Creek in Alpine County, Calif., Sept. 18, 2019.

“You’ve got to celebrate good times. That’s what we’re doing here today,” said CDFW’s Bonham from the banks of Silver King Creek within the remote Carson-Iceberg Wilderness area of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. “If you forget to celebrate, you’re overlooking a remarkable success story – bringing these fish back home and celebrating a better California.”

Not since the early 1900s have genetically pure Paiute cutthroat trout occupied the 11-mile stretch of Silver King Creek between Llewellyn Falls and Snodgrass Creek that represents almost the entirety of the fish’s historic range.

“This is a lifetime achievement for those working to recover the rarest trout in North America,” said Lee Ann Carranza, acting field supervisor for the USFWS Reno office. “This remarkable partnership has allowed Paiute cutthroat trout to be returned to their entire native range without threat from non-natives.”

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The Paiute cutthroat trout was one of the first animals in the nation listed as endangered in 1967 under the federal Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, now known as the Endangered Species Act. In 1975, the species was downlisted to federally threatened to allow for a special rule that would facilitate management of the species by the State of California.

A small native range, habitat degraded by historic sheep and cattle grazing, and competition from and hybridization with non-native trout introduced into Silver King Creek threatened the species with extinction.

Only a fortuitous turn of events saved the species from disappearing altogether. In the early 1900s, Basque sheepherders moved some of the fish outside of their native range, upstream of Llewellyn Falls. The waterfalls served as a barrier to the non-native trout below and safeguarded a genetically pure population of Paiute cutthroat trout above the falls, providing government agencies and advocates the chance to recover the species in the future.

Efforts to save and restore the species have spanned several decades and involved removing non-native fish and restocking Paiute cutthroat trout from source populations.  Recreational fishing was closed within the Silver King Creek drainage in 1934. Later, grazing allotments were administratively closed so habitat could be restored.

At one time, only two small tributaries above Llewellyn Falls held genetically pure Paiute cutthroat trout. CDFW, the Forest Service and USFWS transferred some of these fish to other fishless, protected streams within the Silver King Creek watershed as well as four watersheds outside of the basin to create additional refuge populations to stave off extinction.

The effort to reintroduce Paiute cutthroat trout back into their historic home – the 11-mile main reach of Silver King Creek – began in 1994 when CDFW biologists explored Silver King Canyon and identified a series of waterfalls that served as historic barriers to upstream fish migration, isolating the Paiute cutthroat trout. The barriers could once again insulate Paiute cutthroat trout from encroachment from non-native trout if the non-native trout in Silver King Creek could be removed.

Wildlife officials prevailed over a decade of legal challenges to treat Silver King Creek and its tributaries with rotenone, a natural fish poison, to eliminate non-native trout and prepare Silver King Creek for the eventual return of Paiute cutthroats.

Silver King Creek and its tributaries were chemically treated from 2013 to 2015. State and federal partners monitored the creek for three years following the treatment to make sure all non-native fish were removed. Wildfires, floods and drought over the decades further complicated recovery efforts.

“The commitment of Forest Service, CDFW, USFWS, Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, Trout Unlimited Golden Gate Chapter and Little Antelope Pack Station to move this project forward in the face of numerous challenges has been incredible,” said Bill Dunkelberger, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest supervisor. “A project of this magnitude that took over several decades could not have been completed without state, federal and other partners working tirelessly together.”

The fish reintroduced into Silver King Creek on the afternoon of Sept. 18 were collected that morning from a source population in Coyote Valley Creek about 2 miles away and transported by mules to the banks of Silver King Creek. The fish were deposited into buckets filled with water from Silver King Creek to acclimate for several minutes before being released among cheers and applause – and a few tears – by biologists and others, some of whom have spent decades working toward the historic homecoming.

Restoring Paiute cutthroat trout to their native Silver King Creek nearly doubles the amount of habitat available to the fish and is considered key to their long-term survival and potential delisting.

Monitoring of the reintroduced fish and additional restocking of Paiute cutthroat trout into Silver King Creek from other refuge populations is planned in future years to aid genetic diversity and introduce different age classes into the creek to help natural reproduction.

Photos and video of the Sept. 18 reintroduction are available here: ftp://ftp.wildlife.ca.gov/OCEO/Paiute%20Cutthroat%20Trout/

A barn owl holds a small rat by the neck, in its beak

Plentiful Precipitation Pumps-up Rodent Populations

CDFW Issues Reminder to Avoid Harmful Poisons

The winter of 2018-19 brought ample rainfall and snowpack—good news for drought-weary Californians. The bad news is that the vegetation growth that follows abundant rainfall can lead to abounding rodent populations that some people try to control with poisons. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) reminds people that rodenticides can also kill non-target wildlife, and even pets and children.

Most populations of native rodents, like voles, deer mice and squirrels, are kept in check by predators such as raptors and snakes. An important part of the natural food web, native rodent populations drop back to normal levels after a population boom due to increased predation and the return to typical food supplies. In the short term, to keep native rodent species from overwhelming your home and garden, use habitat modification as an effective, safe and inexpensive way to reduce the number of native voles, deer mice and squirrels on your property. For example, voles like tall grass for cover. Mowing your grass to no more than two inches tall makes it less appealing to them. Like most animals, rodents go where food is available and they feel safe. The easiest way to discourage rodents, both native and non-native, in and around homes and businesses is to remove or modify anything that could make them comfortable.

Removing food and cover is the first step to controlling rodents. Any attempt to remove rodents will be ineffective if you do not first take away their food and cover – other rodents will replace the ones you remove. These actions will help:

  • Keep your home and yard neat and clean.
  • Be aware that pet food, chicken feed and bird feeders will attract rodents.
  • Remove objects and plants that rodents can hide under, such as wood piles, debris, construction waste, dense vegetation and ground-covering vines like ivy.
  • Pick up fruit that has fallen from trees as soon as possible.
  • Secure your garbage in a tightly sealed can.
  • Seal water leaks and remove standing water that may attract unwelcome animals. Standing water is also where mosquitoes breed.

Target non-native rodents (house mice, Norway rats and black rats) in your home attic, walls or garage, by setting traps in secluded areas where the rats or mice have been seen or are likely to travel: close to walls, in dark corners, behind objects, on ledges, shelves, pipes and rafters. In areas where children, pets, birds or other non-target wildlife might have access, secure the trap inside a small box or other barrier for their safety. Check traps daily and wear disposable gloves when removing rodents. Place dead rodents in a sealed plastic bag and then into your garbage bin for weekly collection. Wash your hands after handling traps or rodents, even when using gloves.

Seal the places where rodents can get into your buildings: openings where cables, wires and pipes enter buildings, and cracks or holes in the foundation, walls and roofs. Non-native house mice can squeeze into holes as narrow as ½ inch diameter. Use hardware mesh and concrete, plaster or metal whenever possible. At the very least, stuff stainless steel or copper pot scrubbers, or copper mesh wool into the spaces behind the openings and fix it in place with expanding foam. These items can be purchased online and at hardware and dollar stores. You can also find pest control businesses that specialize in rodent-proofing homes and businesses.

Next, let nature help you control both native and non-native rodents around your home. Rodents’ natural predators include raptors such as owls and hawks. If you actively protect them and their habitat, you won’t need to spend money on poisons and put wildlife, pets and children at risk of accidental poisoning. Planting tall trees like conifers and pines that raptors favor will encourage these birds of prey to hang around your yard and remove rodents for you.

Most raptors use the same nest for many years and some even pass from one generation to the next. Raptors like Cooper’s hawks, red-shouldered hawks, white-tailed kites, great horned owls and barn owls often nest in or adjacent to residential areas and will gladly feed on rodents. That makes them excellent long-term controllers of rodent populations in the area near the nest.

During the breeding season, a family of five barn owls can eat as many as 3,000 rodents! You can encourage them by hanging a nest box on your property, but only if you and your neighbors are not using anticoagulant rodenticides. Remember that poisoned rodents can poison the predators, scavengers and pets that eat them!

Despite some restrictions on the most toxic and persistent anticoagulant rodenticides, wildlife are still being poisoned. In addition to the raptors, scavenging animals such as turkey vultures, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, bears and even feral cats and dogs can be poisoned by eating a smaller animal that ate rat poison. More than 90 percent of mountain lion carcasses collected by CDFW in 2016 and 2017 tested positive for anticoagulant rodenticides and most had been exposed to three or more different anticoagulants.

You can protect non-target animals and children from rodenticide poisoning by using sanitation, exclusion, traps and nature’s rodent predators to control rodents at your home or business. For more information, please visit the rodenticides page on CDFW’s website.

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Photo by Dries Gaerdelen

 

Media Contacts:
Stella McMillin, CDFW Wildlife Investigations Lab, (916) 358-2954
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420

Registration Now Open for Fall Sandhill Crane Tours in San Joaquin County

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is now accepting online reservations for docent-led tours of sandhill cranes and their wetland habitat at the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, just west of Lodi in San Joaquin County.

The late-afternoon tours run from Oct. 6 through February 2019. They are offered the first, second and third Saturdays and Sundays of each month for the five-month duration of the cranes’ fall-winter stay. Online registration is required and is available as early as eight weeks prior to tour dates.

Registration began in mid-August for October tour dates. November tour dates will become available starting Sept. 15. Registration and additional information is available at the CDFW Bay Delta Region’s Sandhill Crane Wetland Tour page. Please note that purchase of a one-day Lands Pass for a nominal fee is required with registration.

“We are very pleased to offer public tours at the reserve and to showcase the benefits of the restored wetlands,” said CDFW Bay Delta Region Manager Gregg Erickson. “These natural resources belong to everyone. All of us have a part in taking care of them as well as enjoying them.”

The Woodbridge Ecological Reserve is accessible at any time for self-guided tours. A series of informative, interpretive panels are located at the reserve’s southern unit at 11154 W. Woodbridge Road, Lodi, CA  95242. Staying through sunset is recommended to witness the sights and sounds of “fly-over” as groups of sandhill cranes return to roosting spots for the evening.

CDFW is also proud to co-sponsor the Lodi Sandhill Crane Festival scheduled for Nov. 2-4. Information about festival tours and activities is available at www.cranefestival.com/index.php.

Media Contacts:
Peter Tira, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8908
David Moore, CDFW Bay Delta Region, (707) 766-8380

two yellow-legged frogs at the edge of a bubbling stream

Californians Can Help Save Wildlife at Tax Time

You don’t have to own hiking boots or a fishing pole, or have a degree in environmental science to help wildlife. A click of your mouse or a stroke of your pen can help the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) protect—or even save—California’s native sea otters and other rare, threatened and endangered animal and plant species.

When you prepare your California individual income tax return, make a voluntary contribution to California Sea Otter Fund on line 410 or the Rare and Endangered Species Preservation on line 403. Enter any dollar amount you wish. Money donated by California taxpayers supports state programs that benefit these at-risk species.

Southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) once lived in the nearshore waters all along California’s coast and in estuaries such as San Francisco, Tomales and Morro bays. Reliable sources estimate there were as many as 16,000 individual otters in California at one time. Their extremely thick fur pelts were coveted for coats, and fur traders hunted them until they were believed extinct in the late 1800s.

A few sea otters survived and were discovered in the 1930s. Legal protection gave the species a chance to survive. The 2017 sea otter survey counted fewer than 3,000 individuals, and was a slight decrease from the 2016 count.

Donations to the California Sea Otter Fund are split between CDFW and the State Coastal Conservancy. CDFW’s half supports scientific research on the causes of mortality in Southern sea otters. Through a better understanding of the causes of death, it may be possible to work more effectively to recover the sea otter population here. The Southern sea otter is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and fully protected by the State of California.

“These donations provide important funding that helps us to recover the Southern sea otter population,” said CDFW sea otter program lead Laird Henkel. “Through this program, we have learned an incredible amount about sea otter health and the health of the ecosystems upon which they depend.”

The Rare and Endangered Species Preservation Program has supported work benefiting California’s native at-risk fish, wildlife and plants since 1983, thanks to the generosity of California taxpayers. Donations to this fund have enabled CDFW to obtain matching funds from the federal government and collaborate with numerous stakeholders and organizations—including other government agencies—to conserve native wildlife.

For example, with such partners we are currently:

  • conducting surveys and helping to restore giant garter snake habitat at Cosumnes River Preserve near Lodi, a population that suffered significant declines during the recent drought.
  • developing conservation strategies that lay the groundwork to help conserve and recover imperiled species such as Mohave ground squirrels, willow flycatchers, great gray owls, western pond turtles and mountain yellow-legged frogs.
  • studying the dietary preferences of endangered marbled murrelets—forest-nesting seabirds of the north coast—to better understand factors that affect their survival and reproduction, and how changes in the climate may affect them.

The Rare and Endangered Species Preservation Program also recently helped biologists learn about survey methods for the beautiful western yellow-billed cuckoo, and helped CDFW biologists monitor populations of invasive pennyroyal that are encroaching on the tiny and unique many-flowered navarretia (Navarretia leucocephala ssp. plieantha) at Loch Lomond Ecological Reserve in Lake County.

CDFW biologists have achieved important recovery milestones and protected vulnerable species, thanks to California taxpayers. There is no upper limit to voluntary contributions and any dollar amount is appreciated. More information about how CDFW uses funds in the Rare and Endangered Species and Sea Otter programs is available at www.wildlife.ca.gov/Tax-Donation and at www.facebook.com/SeaOtterFundCDFW.

If someone else prepares your state tax return, please let him or her know you want to donate to the California Sea Otter Fund on line 410 or the Rare and Endangered Species Preservation Program on line 403. If you use TurboTax, step-by-step instructions to help you find the California Contribution Funds are posted in the CDFW Document Library.

California has 219 species of plants and 83 species of animals listed as rare, threatened or endangered. Money raised through the tax donation program helps pay for essential CDFW research and recovery efforts for these plants and animals, and critical efforts to restore and conserve their habitat. Habitat conservation and restoration for the most vulnerable species also protects many other plants and animals, helps recover ecosystem function and enhances the outdoor experience for all Californians.

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Media Contacts:
Jeb Bjerke, Habitat Conservation Planning Branch (plants), (916) 651-6594
Esther Burkett, Nongame Wildlife Program, (916) 531-1594
Laird Henkel, Sea Otter Program, (831) 469-1726
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420

Coho Salmon Released in Marin County’s Redwood Creek to Boost Spawning of Endangered Fish

In an effort to boost the population of spawning coho salmon in Marin County’s Redwood Creek, biologists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the National Park Service (NPS) today released nearly 200 adult coho salmon in the creek at Muir Beach.

The released coho salmon were collected as juveniles from Redwood Creek in the summer of 2015 at an age of 6 to 8 months and reared to adulthood at the Warm Springs Fish Hatchery in Geyserville at the base of the Lake Sonoma Dam.

The release of coho salmon this winter is the culmination of the Redwood Creek Coho Salmon Rescue and Captive Rearing Project. This project, a collaborative effort by CDFW, NPS, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the California Department of Parks and Recreation, was initiated in 2014 with the goal of preventing the extinction of the coho salmon, which is listed as an endangered species under both the California Endangered Species Act and the federal Endangered Species Act.

Prior to 2014, fewer than 10 adult coho salmon were estimated to have returned to Redwood Creek annually to spawn. The long decline of coho salmon in Redwood Creek has been accelerated by recent periods of poor ocean survival combined with the prolonged California drought. Coho salmon are more sensitive to habitat degradation and poor water quality than other Pacific salmon species since they rear as juveniles in freshwater for a year or more.

Biologists hope that the released fish will migrate upstream and spawn in the creek. NPS monitoring staff will survey the creek in the summer of 2018 and collect tissue samples from juvenile fish. Genetic analysis of the tissue samples will indicate how many of the released adult fish produced viable offspring.

The first major release of adult coho salmon in Redwood Creek occurred in the winter of 2016. A third and final release of adult coho salmon is planned for the winter of 2018-19.

More information about the Redwood Creek Coho Salmon Rescue and Captive Rearing Project can be found on the CDFW website at wildlife.ca.gov/Drought/Projects/Redwood-Creek-Coho. The Redwood Creek coho restoration project is part of a broader effort to sustain and restore coho salmon runs along the central and northern California coast.

Media Contacts:
Peter Tira, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8908
Manfred Kittel, CDFW Bay Delta Region, (707) 944-5522

Dana Polk, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, National Park Service, (415) 786-8021
Darren Fong, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, National Park Service, (415) 289-1838

CDFW Photo by Peter Tira