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Native Fish Habitat Conservation Plan Monitoring Shows Fires Devastating Effects
Southwest Region, October 5, 2011
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View of Lodge Pond with the visible damages to the upper canyons from the Horshoe 2 Fire.
View of Lodge Pond with the visible damages to the upper canyons from the Horshoe 2 Fire. - Photo Credit: Christopher Lohrengel/USFWS
Volunteer Ron Shelton (left) and Wildlife Refuge Specialist Chris Lohrengel, pulling trammel nets during catfish survey.
Volunteer Ron Shelton (left) and Wildlife Refuge Specialist Chris Lohrengel, pulling trammel nets during catfish survey. - Photo Credit: Jason Greff/USFWS

In 1998, El Coronado Ranch owners Josiah and Valer Austin entered into Arizona’s first Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), which allowed cattle ranch operations to continue while at the same time instituting conservation measures for the federally endangered Yaqui chub Gila purpurea. The El Coronado Ranch HCP and Implementation Agreement requires that monitoring and reporting on the success of conservation measures occur annually for the first five years of the permit. There are four native fish species that are of interest in the monitoring on El Coronado Ranch; Yaqui chub, Yaqui catfish, Mexican stoneroller, and longfin dace. The Yaqui chub and Yaqui catfish are federally listed species, as well as listed by the state of Arizona.

Since last year’s Habitat Conservation Plan monitoring effort, there have been many events that have had negative effects on the El Coronado Ranch Fish. The last significant precipitation prior to the 2011 monsoons was in October of 2010. The Chiricahua Mountains, where the ranch is located, had very little snow pack because of this lack of precipitation, which significantly affected vegetation in the spring, as well as available water in West Turkey Creek. On May 8, the Horseshoe II fire started in Horseshoe Canyon and reached the upper canyons that feed West Turkey Creek in early June. The fire was finally contained, after several slop overs and crowning runs, on June 25. Several of the upper canyons in the Chiricahua Mountains suffered devastating fires. Several floods were experienced in West Turkey Creek, a few of which exceeded the banks of the creek. The floods had the expected effects in the drainage; increased sediment, ash depositing, decreased invertebrate populations, and diminished habitat through filling of deep pools in the stream bed.

To provide a reprieve to the native fish in this drainage, San Bernardino NWR Staff made two salvage trips (June 1 and June 22) to El Coronado Ranch (ECR) to remove fish from ponds and West Turkey Creek. These salvage efforts were initiated for two reasons, first the ranch ponds were drying, and second, because of the fire it was anticipated that when the monsoons arrived, water quality in the drainage would decrease to a point that the survivability of fish would be compromised due to ash and increased sediment loads from erosion of the upper canyons. Approximately 1,500 Yaqui chub and 225 Mexican stonerollers were removed from various locations on the ranch. Of the Yaqui chub, 1,200 were released into Upper Chalk Tank on the Bar Boot Ranch under a Safe Harbor Agreement finalized in 2008, while the remaining Yaqui chub and all of the Mexican stonerollers were divided between the Refuge Headquarters and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum (ASDM) in Tucson, Arizona, for holding until such time that they can be released.

In addition to the fish moved to Bar Boot Ranch, Refuge Headquarters, and ASDM, refuge staff moved roughly 100 Yaqui chub into the house fountain at ECR on June first. A week later, Dr. Robert Minckley, a visiting researcher, moved another 500 Yaqui chub into the house fountain. On July 19, refuge staff were called to ECR by one of the owners to address fish mortalities in the house fountain. It was theorized there were too many fish in the fountain, thereby decreasing water quality, so refuge staff trapped the fountain and moved 350 fish into the garden pond near the main house.

There are four ponds on ECR that are monitored for chub and dace, as well as six permanent reaches, three on the ranch and three on Forest Service Lands, in West Turkey Creek that are monitored for chub, dace, and stoneroller. The catfish is only found in one of the impoundments on the ranch and is surveyed over two nights. Over the previous eight years, each pond has averaged more than three hundred captures of chub. This year however, there were only 115 chub captured across all the ponds; 113 in one and two in another. In the stream reaches, numbers were just as poor when compared to last year. The three established sites on the ranch produced a total of eight fish; one chub, seven dace, and no stonerollers. The average for the previous seven years was; 53 chub, 81 dace, and 16 stonerollers. The reaches on Forest Service Land were not monitored this year due to low water. In the one impoundment where Yaqui catfish are found two individuals were captured. Both catfish captured were recaptures. In addition to the catfish, there were 40 non-native fish removed from the pond.

 


Contact Info: Christopher Lohrengel, 520-364-2104 x.106, chris_lohrengel@fws.gov



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