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San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge Begins Releasing Fish Rescued From Horseshoe Two Fire
Southwest Region, March 1, 2012
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Refuge volunteer Ron Shelton releasing fish back into Cave Creek in the Chiricahua Mountains
Refuge volunteer Ron Shelton releasing fish back into Cave Creek in the Chiricahua Mountains - Photo Credit: USFWS/C. Lohrengel

Ten months ago, the Horseshoe Two Fire in the Chiricahua Mountains was threatening native fish habitat. The fire, pushed by strong, unpredictable winds, continuously jumped lines and caused severe habitat damage to some of the upper canyons within the mountains. The Chiricahua Mountains have three significant drainages; West Turkey Creek, Rucker Creek, and Cave Creek; that are home to four native fish species; Mexican longfin dace, speckled dace, Mexican stoneroller, and Yaqui chub; all of which are afforded some level of protection from the state or federal governments. It was determined by refuge staff that a salvage effort was going to have to take place prior to the monsoon season when heavy rains on top of damage from the fire was going to have disastrous effects in the creeks that are fed by the some of the upper canyons that suffered the most damage. In all, refuge staff removed close to 3,000 fish from the three creeks and some of the impoundments fed by West Turkey Creek. The fish have been held at the San Bernardino NWR Headquarters and at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson. In the case of 1,500 Yaqui chub, they were released into a nearby impoundment that is covered by the Leslie Canyon Watershed Safe Harbor Agreement, which was not threatened by the fire.

 

Beginning last month, refuge staff and an Arizona Game and Fish Department fisheries biologist began surveying the drainages to determine if the creeks had recovered to a point where they possessed suitable habitat and an adequate prey base for release of these native fish. After electro-fishing approximately 1.5 miles of Rucker Creek and finding healthy looking native fish that survived the fire’s after effects and visually checking several other reaches, it was determined that the creek would be able to support fish. On two different dates, refuge staff released 40 Mexican stonerollers and 75 Mexican longfin dace into Rucker Creek.  A plan is in place to go back into Rucker Creek prior to this year’s monsoons and salvage fish in the event that there is still a large amount of ash on the upper part of the mountain that could be washed into the creek. As of now, Rucker Creek is the only drainage that has had any fish released. West Turkey Creek was not flowing at adequate levels when surveyed and Cave Creek is yet to be surveyed.


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



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