Grand Junction Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office

445 West Gunnison Avenue, Suite 140 | Grand Junction, Colorado 81501
Phone: (970) 628-7200 | Fax: 970-628-7217 | Email: dale_ryden@fws.gov

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Notice

Being safe on our refuges and hatcheries

Although most refuge lands and outdoor spaces have remained open for the public to enjoy, we encourage you to:

  • Check local conditions on this website and call ahead for current information
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  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
  • Most importantly, stay home if you feel sick

For more information visit our FWS Coronavirus webpage.

About the Colorado River Fishery Project (CRFP)

CRFP Mission | Endangered Fish | Staff & Literature | Research | Management | Propagation | Monitoring | Partnerships | Newsletters | Contact Us | Open / Close All

T. Hicks and T. Bonaquista conduct electrofishing surveys of endangered fish on the Colorado River near Moab, Utah, 2004. Captures of tagged and untagged Colorado pikeminnow allow researchers to annually estimate population abundance in the Colorado River. Photo by D. Osmundson.

T. Hicks and T. Bonaquista conduct electrofishing surveys of endangered fish on the Colorado River near Moab, Utah, 2004. Photo by D. Osmundson.

What is the CRFP?

The Colorado River Fishery Project – Grand Junction (CRFP) was established in 1979 to conduct research and management activities to benefit four endangered fish species in the upper Colorado River Basin. It was expanded in 1992 to include spawning and rearing facilities for the endangered fish. The CRFP is a research and management field station; the Ouray National Fish Hatchery – Grand Valley Unit, is the fish propagation center. Together, they comprise the Grand Junction Fisheries Office. The Geographic scope of the Grand Junction station includes the Colorado, Gunnison and San Juan rivers of Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. Its Utah sister station, Colorado River Fishery Project – Vernal, similarly covers the Green, Yampa and White rivers of Utah and Colorado.

The CRFP Mission »

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The upper Colorado River Basin, where four endangered fish species live.  Illustration by D. Osmundson

The CRFP mission is to identify and implement methods to recover the endangered Colorado pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius), humpback chub (Gila cypha), bonytail (Gila elegans), and razorback sucker (Xyrauchen texanus). Species will be considered recovered when populations are self-sustaining in the wild, threats are reduced, and adult numbers are sufficient to maintain long-term genetic diversity. Ultimately, the goal is for these fish to no longer need the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

CRFP field station activities include basin-wide monitoring of rare fish populations and their habitats, basic life-history and management-oriented research, instream-flow assessments and recommendations, database management and analyses, and fish propagation. Primary conservation projects in recent years include assessing status and trends of riverine Colorado pikeminnow and humpback chub populations, assessing the status and trends of the razorback sucker population in Lake Powell and that population’s interactions with adjacent riverine populations, reducing the impacts of introduced fish on native species, restoring fish passage over diversion dams, rearing and stocking razorback sucker and bonytail to augment declining populations in the wild.

Endangered Fish »

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Colorado Pikeminnow | Humpback Chub | Razorback Sucker | Bonytail

Colorado pikeminnow

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Young Colorado pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius).  Photo by J. Ferreira

Young Colorado pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius). Photo by J. Ferreira.

Colorado pikeminnow – Noted as North America’s largest member of the minnow family (Cyprinidae), Ptychocheilus lucius is one of four members of the genus Ptychocheilus. It has inhabited the Colorado River basin since at least the mid-Pliocene Epoch (about six million years). However, between the 1930s and 1960s, a series of major dams were built on the Colorado River and its tributaries, blocking fish migrations and changing the seasonal pattern of flows and water temperature downstream. Once ranging from the Wyoming border to the Gulf of California, the Colorado pikeminnow is now restricted to the upper Colorado River basin, upstream of Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell (about 25 percent of its former range). Ptychocheilus lucius is a piscivore (fish-eater) and may grow to a length of two meters (six feet), though the largest found in recent years was 1.3 meters (four feet) long. Though uncommon, its distribution is widespread within warm-water habitats of the upper basin, occurring in the Colorado mainstem, Gunnison, Green, Yampa and White rivers. The continued existence of this species is threatened by habitat changes caused by altered flow regimes as well as predation and competition from non-native fish species.

Young humpback chub captured from the Colorado River at Black Rocks. Photo by D. Osmundson.

Young humpback chub captured from the Colorado River at Black Rocks. Photo by D. Osmundson.

Humpback chub

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Humpback chub - Also a member of the minnow family (Cyprinidae), the humpback chub Gila cypha is one of several species of the genus Gila found in warm-water reaches of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Unlike the Colorado pikeminnow, populations of humpback chub are confined to specific reaches, generally canyon-bound regions containing deep, swift water with turbulent eddies, habitat conditions the species is uniquely adapted for. One population occurs in the lower basin, within Grand Canyon National Park, and five others in the upper basin: three in the mainstem Colorado River, one in the Green River and one in the Yampa River. Only two of these populations are relatively large (thousands of individuals); the others are small and tenuous. This species is noted for the pronounced hump on its back, directly behind the head. The purpose of this hump is unclear but may be related to swimming performance in turbulent conditions. The species is omnivorous, primarily feeding on insects, crustaceans, plants and small fish. In addition to range reduction from dams, habitat change from altered flow regimes, and predation from non-native fish, humpback chub are also threatened with hybridization with other chubs, particularly the roundtail chub Gila robusta, another chub species still common in the upper basin.

Razorback sucker captured from the Colorado River near Grand Junction, 1986. USFWS file photo.

Razorback sucker captured from the Colorado River near Grand Junction, 1986. USFWS file photo.

Razorback sucker

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Razorback sucker - The only member of the genus Xyrauchen in the sucker family (Catomstomidae), X. texanus once occurred throughout warm-water reaches of the mainstem Colorado River and its tributaries from Utah and Colorado downstream to the Gulf of California. By the 1990s the wild population in the upper Colorado River mainstem was essentially extirpated and only a few hundred individuals remained in Utah’s Green River. In the lower basin, a relatively large population persisted in Lake Mohave, downstream of Hoover Dam, up until the 1980s, but even this population has declined precipitously in the past 10-20 years. In all populations, reproductive failure or high mortality of young resulted in extremely low annual recruitment to the adult populations. Over time, natural mortality of adults without replacement by young led to gradual population declines. The prominent ridge or keel on its back, for which the razorback sucker is named, gives the species a striking appearance. The purpose of the keel is unclear but may aid in the fishes ability to swim or maintain its position in turbulent water, or may be an anti-predator device making it difficult to be swallowed, much like the spine on the back of a catfish. Razorback sucker consume zooplankton, aquatic insects, and algae. The greatest threat to the continued existence of this species appears to be predation on young by introduced, non-native fishes. In addition, alteration of river flows by dam operations have limited the flooding of river bottomlands in spring, a seasonal habitat type believed critical for first-year growth and survival of young razorback sucker. Hybridization with other species of sucker also appears to be problem.

Unknown chub species with some bonytail-like characteristics captured from the Colorado River in 2004. USFWS file photo.

Unknown chub species with some bonytail-like characteristics captured from the Colorado River in 2004. USFWS file photo.


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Bonytail – This is the rarest of the three species of chub (Genus Gila) native to the upper Colorado River and the most endangered of the four big-river fishes. Historical reports indicate Gila elegans was once common in warm-water reaches throughout the upper and lower basins. The last documented individual from the upper mainstem Colorado River was captured in 1983. Some bonytail-like specimens are sometimes captured in Cataract Canyon above the Lake Powell inflow, but these may be humpback or roundtail chubs containing bonytail genes (hybrids). A handful of old adults may still occur in Lake Mohave in the lower basin but captures of these by biologists are becoming increasingly infrequent. For the most part, the species is considered extirpated in the wild. As the name implies, the caudal peduncle (narrow part of body to which the tail fin attaches) is very narrow and long, setting it apart from the other two species of chub. Old-timers referred to these fish as “broomtails.” In the 1980s, bonytails from Lake Mohave were brought to Dexter National Fish Hatchery ( New Mexico) to be used as broodstock. Progeny of these are being raised by the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife and have been recently released into upper Colorado River reaches. Whether these stocked bonytails will survive in the wild is not yet known. Because bonytail populations were exptirpated before biologists had a chance to study them in the wild, very little is known of their life history, their habitat requirements, or the reasons why they declined and disappeared.

Staff & Literature »

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Jump to a staff member:
Dale Ryden | Brian Scheer | Travis Francis | Ben Schleicher | Mike Gross | Doug Osmundson | Darek Elverud| Haden VanWinkle

Click here for a pdf listing of all reports and publications from the Grand Junction Office of the Colorado River Fishery Project

Photo of Dale Ryden

Dale Ryden. Credit: USFWS.

Dale Ryden
(970) 628-7200

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Dale began his U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service career in 1990 when he was hired as a seasonal Biological Technician for the Colorado River Fishery Project in Grand Junction, Colorado. After three seasons, he was hired full time as a Fish Biologist and became responsible for overseeing the station’s field activities in the San Juan River basin. Dale's responsibilities have ranged across a number of areas including: 1) augmentation and monitoring of the San Juan River's endangered fish populations; 2) annually monitoring the river-wide distribution and abundance of the large-bodied fish community in the San Juan River; 3) performing and analyzing effects of nonnative fish removals; 4) determining habitat preference and spawning site locations of endangered razorback sucker and Colorado pikeminnow; and 5) surveying Lake Powell for populations of endangered razorback sucker.

Dale has spent most of his field career working from rafts and motorized boats in rivers, ponds and lakes of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. From 2011 to 2012, it was Dale’s privilege to supervise both Colorado River Fishery Project field stations (Grand Junction and Vernal, Utah). In January 2012 Dale was hired as the Project Leader for the newly re-organized Grand Junction Fisheries Office, which consists of the Colorado River Fishery Project and Ouray National Fish Hatchery – Grand Valley Unit. Dale is also the USFWS representative to the Biology Committee of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and USFWS Region 6 representative to the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program (SJRBRIP).

Dale has published two peer-reviewed journal articles on his work in the San Juan River basin along with authoring over 35 agency reports, six species augmentation plans, and a genetics management plan. He has been a contributing author on both the flow recommendations report for the reoperation of Navajo Reservoir and the long-term monitoring protocols document currently being used by the SJRBRIP.

Photo of Brian Scheer

Brian Scheer. Credit: USFWS.

Brian Scheer
(970) 245-9236

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Brian began his career with the Colorado Division of Wildlife in 1987 as a seasonal/temporary cold-water fish culturist. In 1996, upon completion of his Bachelor of Science degree, Brian started work with the Grand Junction CRFP as a Biological Technician. Brian then went to work for the Colorado Division of Wildlife as a full-time cold water fish culturist in 1999. In 2003 Brian was hired as a Fish Biologist for the Grand Junction CRFP. Along with Thad Bingham, his primary responsibilities include the management and operation of the CRFP 24-Road Endangered Species Fish Hatchery. This includes management of captive reared razorback sucker broodstock and an annual production and distribution of 15,000 intensively reared razorback sucker.

Photo of Travis Francis

Travis Francis. Credit: USFWS.

Travis Francis
(970) 628-7204

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Travis has worked 12 years performing fisheries research and management in the Colorado, Gunnison and San Juan rivers. He began work for the Grand Junction field office in 2003 as a seasonal Biological Science Technician. He became a full time Fisheries Technician in 2004 and served as a Crew Leader for various station projects. Since 2006, Travis has served as a Fish Biologist performing fisheries research and management associated with the Upper Colorado River Recovery Program (UCRRP) and San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program (SJRIP). During his involvement with both programs, Travis’ responsibilities have ranged across a number of areas including: 1) Database manager for the UCRRP, 2) humpback chub population monitoring in Black Rocks on the Colorado River, 3) razorback sucker monitoring on the San Juan arm of Lake Powell, 4) non-native centrarchid removal on the Colorado River, 5) fish ladder operation on the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers, 6) razorback sucker propagation at the Ouray National Fish Hatchery -- Grand Valley Unit and, 7) leading field crews for other projects associated with the UCCRP and SJRIP.

Photo of Ben SchleicherEmily Buchanan

Ben Schleicher. Credit: USFWS.

Ben Schleicher
(970) 628-7205

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Ben started his Fish and Wildlife Service career with Grand Junction CRFP in March 2010 as a seasonal Biological Science Technician where he assisted biologists with field data collection in the Colorado, Gunnison, Yampa, Green, and San Juan Rivers. In May of 2011, he became a Crew Leader overseeing field crews collecting data for numerous projects. In July of 2012, he became a full time Fish Biologist and now oversees all CRFP field studies in the San Juan River basin. These studies include yearly monitoring of the large-bodied fish community and the control of problematic populations of invasive fish species. He works closely with a variety of agencies and offices, including: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Albuquerque; U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; New Mexico Department of Game and Fish; Utah Division of Wildlife Resources; Bureau of Indian Affairs; and the Navajo Nation. He is one of the principal investigators for the razorback sucker survey taking place on Lake Powell. In addition to his field studies, he also performs several other collateral duties for the CRFP office.

Photo of Mike Gross

Mike Gross. Credit: USFWS.

Mike Gross
(970) 245-9236

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Mike received a Bachelor of Science degree in Fisheries Biology with Aquaculture option from Humboldt State University in 2003. During college and shortly after graduation, he worked for Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission participating in salmon and rockfish surveys off the Northern California coast, surveying anglers and retrieving coded wire tags from hatchery-raised salmon. In 2003, Mike and his family moved to Grand Junction and began working on various fisheries-related projects for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. He performed extensive analyses of fish otoliths, documenting age structure of fish populations from throughout the state. Mike was also involved in identifying zooplankton trends in many Colorado reservoirs and had the opportunity to co-author a Zooplankton Compendium while working for CDOW. In 2008, Mike began working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and has proven himself to be a valuable asset to the endangered fish recovery program.

Based out of the Ouray National Fish Hatchery -- Grand Valley Unit, Mike uses his aquaculture background propagating, rearing, and stocking endangered fish. He is also deeply involved in many of the educational outreach events around the Grand Valley and prides himself on helping future generations learn about native ecosystems, endangered species, and the importance of conservation efforts.

Photo of Doug Osmundson

Doug Osmundson. Credit: USFWS.

Doug Osmundson
(970) 628-7212

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Graduate studies in Aquatic Ecology at Utah State University brought Doug to Grand Junction in 1983 to study largemouth bass predation on Colorado pikeminnow. He was hired as a Fish Biologist by the CRFP in 1986. His earlier studies included: experimental use of flooded gravel-pits as grow-out ponds for hatchery-produced Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker and radiotelemetry of Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker to determine spawning movements and patterns of seasonal habitat use. His evaluation of effects of river regulation on maintenance of habitats critical to Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker in the Colorado River led to development of flow recommendations for the upper Colorado River.

From 1991 to the present, Doug has monitored status and trends of adult Colorado pikeminnow in the upper Colorado River, working with Dr. Kenneth Burnham and Dr. Gary White at Colorado State University to develop annual estimates of population abundance, recruitment, and adult survival rate. Doug’s studies have also included experimentally removing largemouth bass from river backwaters, monitoring embeddedness of cobble-gravel substrates, studying life-history attributes of Colorado pikeminnow (growth, longevity, sex-ratio, generation time, age-at-first-maturity, sexual size dimorphism, etc.), evaluating reproduction of stocked razorback sucker, and linking upstream range limits of Colorado pikeminnow to riverine thermal regimes. Doug is certified by the Ecological Society of America as a Senior Ecologist, and has published in the Journal of Fish Biology, Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, Ecological Applications, and River Research and Applications. He currently serves as a member of the Colorado pikeminnow Recovery Team.

Derek Elverud. Credit: USFWS.

Darek Elverud. Credit: USFWS.

Darek Elverud
(970) 628-7203

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Darek began his fisheries career working for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks while an undergraduate at the University of Montana. After graduation, Darek worked as a seasonal fisheries technician for the U.S. Forest Service and as a fish biologist for the Bureau of Land Management and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. While working for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Darek served as a native aquatics biologist on the San Juan and Colorado rivers, working with Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, and razorback sucker. Darek began working with CRFP in 2014 and is currently working on projects to estimate abundance of the Colorado pikeminnow population in the upper Colorado River and fish community monitoring in the lower Gunnison River. Darek also assists other staff with other CRFP projects.

Derek Elverud. Credit: USFWS.

Haden VanWinkle.

Haden VanWinkle
(970) 245-9236

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Haden began volunteering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when he was a junior in high school. After volunteering in high school, he worked several seasons with the Grand Junction FWCO (formerly called the Colorado River Fishery Project – Grand Junction) as a Pathways Student, a Bio Science Aide, and then as a seasonal Biological Science Technician, conducting endangered fish management and recovery work throughout the upper Colorado River basin. In 2015, Haden began working full-time at the Ouray National Fish Hatchery – Grand Valley Unit (a fresh water, re-use aquaculture facility), where he helps rear Razorback Sucker and Bonytail for stocking into the Colorado River and its tributaries, to promote recovery of these endangered fish species.

Research »

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Jamie with trammel net.

Jamie with trammel net. Credit: USFWS.

The Colorado River Fishery Project conducts research on the life history of the four endangered Colorado River fish and the habitat that supports them. Knowledge of the biology of the fish and their ecological requirements is essential to understanding the threats the fish face and to developing management strategies for their recovery. Studies have included such subjects as timing and location of spawning, distribution and relative abundance of larvae and young-of-the-year, dispersal patterns of adults, seasonal habitat requirements, growth rate, survival rate, sex ratio and food habits.

Habitat studies have focused on the effects of various flow regimes on habitat suitability. Availability of preferred mesohabitats (pools, eddies, backwaters, etc.) vary depending on flow stage. Additionally, such habitats are generally formed during large spring-flow events. The quality of the substrata (river bottom sediments) that produce algae and benthic invertebrates, the base of the food chain, are affected by flows.

Aquatic invertebrate samping helps researchers assess effects of flow and fine sediment accumulation in the river-bed. Photo by D. Osmundson.

Aquatic invertebrate samping helps researchers assess effects of flow and fine sediment accumulation in the river-bed. Photo by D. Osmundson.

Seasonal water temperatures that affect feeding rates and timing of spawning are also affected by flows and river regulation. Hence, assessing the suitability of the environment for the endangered fishes requires linking our knowledge of their biological requirements with our understanding of how flows affect the quality of their physical habitat. Equally important is understanding how the endangered fish interact with other members of the biological community, i.e., the foods they feed on and the predators that feed on them. Hence, research is a critical prerequisite to devising effective management actions.

Management »

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Non-native fish

Non-native smallmouth bass captured from the Colorado River in Ruby Canyon, 2003. These invasive sportfish were extremely rare in the upper Colorado River prior to 2000 but have increased in number dramatically in recent years. They prey on native fishes and threaten endangered fish recovery efforts. Photo by B. Burdick

Non-native smallmouth bass captured from the Colorado River in Ruby Canyon, 2003. Photo by B. Burdick.

One of the greatest threats to the endangered fish is the introduction of fish species not native to the Colorado River basin. Several of these are game fish, popular with anglers in their own native drainage basins. Some small-bodied species may have been introduced as bait minnows. Whether stocked intentionally or accidentally, these non-native fish can compete with or prey on the Colorado River native fish. In the nearby Yampa River, populations of the endangered fishes as well as other non-endangered native species have been decimated by the introduction of non-native northern pike and smallmouth bass.

In the San Juan River, management efforts to control non-native fish numbers over the past ten years have focused on removing common carp and channel catfish with some success. As a result, populations of native fish have responded with increased survival, and for one species, the bluehead sucker, an expansion of range. In the Colorado River, introduced centrarchids (basses and sunfish) appear to pose the greatest threat to the native fish fauna. Smallmouth and largemouth bass, rare in the 1980s, are now common in the river near Grand Junction, Colorado. These popular sportfish are voracious predators on other fishes, particularly the native fishes, which lack spines or other means of protection. The CRFP and its partner, the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, are working to determine the source of these fish and the best means to control their numbers. Because bass are popular with the sportfishing public, the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife works to develop warm-water angling opportunities in nearby off-channel ponds and lakes.

Fish ladders

  • The fish ladder installed in 1996 at the Redlands Diversion Dam near the mouth of the Gunnison River allows upstream passage of native fishes and aids in recovery of endangered Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker populations. USBR file photo.
  • Fish ladder at the site of the old Price-Stubb Dam. The dam was removed and concrete chevrons placed in a constructed side channel in 2008. The former 10-foot-high Price-Stubb Dam had blocked fish from moving upstream since its construction in 1911, and acted as the upstream terminus of the distributional range of the Colorado pikeminnow in the upper Colorado River. The dam was no longer used to divert water for irrigation, its function having been replaced by the more upstream Grand Valley Project Diversion Dam. With dam removal, fish now move freely both up and downstream in the main channel at most flow levels. However, when water levels get low, fish must use the adjacent fish ladder to ascend the river. Tagged fish migrating through the fish ladder are monitored with an on-site antennae. Photo by B. Burdick.
  • Fish ladder at the Grand Valley Project Diversion Dam on the Colorado River in DeBeque Canyon near Cameo, Colorado. The 14-foot-high Grand Valley Project Diversion Dam was built in 1916 and diverts water to the Government Highline Canal and the Orchard Mesa Power Canal. It blocks upstream fish movement at all flow levels. The fish ladder, built in 2005, has a trap at the upper end allowing biologists to monitor all fish that use the ladder to ascend the river. USBR file photo.
  • Fish captured in the trap at the Grand Valley Project fish ladder. Fish are sorted by hand, counted by species and natives are released to the river upstream of the diversion. USFWS file photo.

Low-head dams were constructed early in the 20th century to provide irrigation water for farms in Colorado’s Grand Valley. Although important to agriculture, these dams blocked upstream fish movement and eliminated many miles of habitat once suited to the endangered fish. Working with its partners, the CRFP helped restore fish passage on the lower Gunnison River near Grand Junction in 1996 with the completion of a fish ladder around the Redlands Diversion Dam. From 1996 to 2012, some 115,000 native fish have ascended the Redlands Fish Ladder including 122 endangered Colorado pikeminnow, 28 razorback sucker, eight bonytail, and one humpback chub. Fish passage was also provided on the Colorado River upstream of Palisade, Colorado with the completion of fish ladders at the Grand Valley Project Diversion Dam in 2005 and the Price-Stubb Diversion Dam in 2008. Through 2012, 58,000 native fish have passed the more upstream dam, including two razorback sucker, six humpback chub, and 22 bonytail.

Canal fish screens

  • Fish screen installed on the Redlands canal near Grand Junction. The screen is designed to return fish to the Gunnison River and reduce fish losses to the canal. USBR file photo.
  • CRFP personnel capture fish stranded in Grand Valley canals when the irrigation season ends. Captured fish are transported back to the river and released. Photo by C. McAda.
  • Fish screen at the Redlands canal. Screens prevent fish from entering the canal and direct fish to a pipe that returns them to the river. Photo by B. Burdick.

Canal diversions that entrapped thousands of native riverine fish each year since the turn of the century are now being retrofitted with state-of-the-art mechanical fish screens designed to safely return fish to the river. Until these are operated continuously throughout the irrigation season, the CRFP crews will manually remove native fish that are trapped when the canals drain in the fall. These fish are then trucked to the river and released.

Floodplain Restoration

  • The Colorado River near 29 Road in Grand Junction during high water of May 1986. Old gravel-pit ponds were reclaimed by the river during the flood years of 1983 & 1984, diversifying the channel and creating flooded bottomland habitat important to native fish. Photo by D. Osmundson.
  • Old Jarvis property near the confluence of the Gunnison and Colorado rivers near downtown Grand Junction. The City of Grand Junction worked with the USFWS to convert this property from an auto salvage yard to a marsh that floods during high river flows. USFWS file photo.
  • This dike along the Gunnison River was notched at upstream and downstream ends of a large pond (left of photo) so water can flow into and out of the pond during spring when river waters rise from spring runoff. Larval razorback sucker drifting in the river current can now enter the pond where it is hoped that warm, low-velocity conditions will mimic those of historic flooded bottomlands. Annually flooded areas once provided critical nursery habitat for young razorback suckers before upstream dams were constructed that reduced spring flows. Photo by P. S. Gelatt.

Prior to the building of dams and diversions on the Colorado River and its tributaries, spring snowmelt in the mountains resulted in the river topping its banks in many if not most years. Razorback sucker and Colorado pikeminnow used the flooded, off-channel habitats created during this time. For razorback sucker, these sites were critical as first-year nursery areas because of the warm and food-rich conditions there. Due to reduced flows and levees built by landowners, these seasonal floodplain habitats are reduced in area and infrequently available. Restoring some of these sites so that they flood more frequently is one of the key elements of the strategy to recover razorback sucker populations. The CRFP has worked to inventory floodplain areas along the Colorado and Gunnison rivers, and along with its partners, has entered into various agreements with landowners so that these sites can be managed to benefit the endangered fish.

Propagation »

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  • Doug Osmundson holds the last wild razorback sucker captured from the upper Colorado River at Walter Walker State Wildlife Area, April 27, 1993. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s so few wild razorback sucker remained that all captured were brought into captivity to be used as broodstock for hatchery-based recovery efforts. The limited gene pool necessitated that matings included individuals captured from the Colorado, Green and San Juan rivers. Photo by J. Thompson.
  • Travis Francis plans the matings of pairs of razorback sucker broodstock to maximize the genetic diversity of offspring that will be stocked in the river. Photo by J. Hock.
  • Young razorback sucker reared at the Grand Valley Propagation Facility are released in grow-out ponds near Grand Junction. USFWS file photo.

In the late 1980s and 1990s so few wild razorback sucker remained in the upper Colorado River that all captured were brought into captivity to be used as broodstock for hatchery-based recovery efforts.
  • Embryos of razorback sucker about to hatch at the Grand Valley Propagation Facility. Photo by R. Dujay.

In addition to the Colorado River Fishery Project, the Grand Junction Fisheries Office includes the Ouray National Fish Hatchery – Grand Valley Unit. The hatchery consists of several facilities: 1) Horsethief Broodstock Ponds, 2) The Grand Valley Propagation Facility, 3) The Horsethief Canyon Native Fish Facility, and 4) various grow-out ponds.

Offspring from wild razorback suckers are held in ponds and spawned every spring. Matings between pairs of fish are planned so as to maximize the genetic diversity of their offspring. Eggs are hatched and then reared for about a year in a water-reuse hatchery. Progeny from each mating are reared separately in indoor tanks. Fish are placed in grow-out ponds in the spring when they are large enough to be marked with a small electronic tag. These tags can later be used to identify individuals, their respective parentage, and when and where they were stocked. The ponds allow time for the fish to adjust to a natural environment and grow larger before being released in the wild. After 4-6 months, they are stocked into the Colorado, Gunnison and San Juan rivers. Field crews monitor the survival and spawning of the stocked fish.

  • Chuck McAda (left) and Thad Bingham strip eggs from a ripe female razorback sucker at the Horsethief spawning facility. Eggs are incubated after being fertilized with milt from a selected male. Photo by J. Hock.
  • Razorback sucker held as broodstock are netted from the Horsethief ponds prior to spring spawning. Photo by C. McAda.
  • Horsethief State Wildlife Area endangered fish ponds near Fruita, Colorado. Photo by M. Baker.

Horsethief Ponds – A series of ponds constructed at the Horsethief State Wildlife Area are used for holding the razorback sucker broodstock. These fish are brought indoors in the spring where they are held until ready to be spawned. The males that are matched with females for mating are changed each year according to a schedule designed to maximize the genetic diversity of the offspring.

  • Young razorback sucker being reared at the Grand Valley Propagation Facility. Photo by T. Bingham
  • One of several filters that clean tank water for reuse at the Grand Valley Propagation Facility. Photo by B. Scheer.
  • Rearing tanks at the Grand Valley Propagation Facility. Photo by B. Scheer.

The Grand Valley Propagation Facility – A water-reuse hatchery was built in 1996 specifically to rear razorback sucker. The hatchery contains some 94 circular, fibreglass tanks. Water used in the tanks is filtered and reused over and over. Annually, 21,000 fish are reared at the hatchery to a length of 200 mm before being transferred to grow-out ponds; an additional 7,000 are reared to a length of 300 mm and are then stocked directly in the river.

Horsethief Canyon Native Fish Facility, located in Snook’s Bottom near Fruita, Colorado. Water for the facility comes from the nearby Colorado River through an infiltration gallery. Photo by D. Ryden.

Horsethief Canyon Native Fish Facility, located in Snook’s Bottom near Fruita, Colorado. Photo by D. Ryden, USFWS.

Horsethief Canyon Native Fish Facility – Located just outside of Fruita, CO this facility consists of 22 ponds ranging in size from 0.1 to 0.5 acres (6.2 total surface acres). Each is 5-6 feet deep and lined with a geomembrane fabric to reduce seepage. A small onsite building is used for holding, spawning, and rearing operations. Construction was completed in 2012 and was funded by the two endangered fish recovery programs to hold and rear endangered razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow, and potentially bonytail and humpback chub.

  • Razorback sucker are captured in fyke nets from grow-out ponds when about one and a half years old. Photo by B. Osmundson.
  • Razorback sucker being transferred from nets to a boat-mounted holding tank. Photo by B. Osmundson.
  • CRFP personnel move pond-reared razorback sucker to a stocking truck. The fish are then marked with a miniature electronic tag before being stocked in the river. Photo by B. Osmundson.

Grow-out Ponds – A variety of ponds are used to rear razorback sucker prior to their release in the wild. Some of these ponds are situated on land owned by the Bureau of Reclamation, others are leased from local landowners. Fish are moved to the ponds in the spring from the hatchery and are later captured in the fall, tagged, and released in the river.

Monitoring »

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  • Biologists on the San Juan River tag fish as part of population monitoring studies. Photo by E. Teller.
  • Researchers from CRFP, New Mexico Game and Fish, Utah Division of Wildlife, FWS (Region 2) and Bureau of Indian Affairs conduct annual collaborative trips on the San Juan River to monitor endangered fish populations. Photo taken in 2006 downstream of Bluff, Utah by C. Hinds.
  • Annual fall seining of Colorado River backwaters was conducted from 1982 to 2000 to monitor annual production of wild Colorado pikeminnow. Netted fish are identified, counted and released. This 1988 photo by D. Osmundson was taken near Gold Bar downstream of Moab, Utah.


To determine whether the endangered fish are responding to recovery actions, populations of the endangered fish must be monitored over time. Annual capture surveys using standardized electrofishing and netting techniques provide data with which fish densities or relative abundance can be calculated. Over a series of years, such capture indices can show whether the abundance of a given population is trending upwards or downwards.

Partnerships »

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The Colorado River Fishery Project functions under guidance and funding provided by the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program. These two recovery programs are cooperative partnerships created to recover the four endangered fishes of the upper basin while allowing for continued and future water development. All CRFP activities are governed by committees comprised of representatives from federal and state agencies, affected Indian nations, and other public and private organizations.

Program cooperators in the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program include: Colorado River Energy Distributors Association, Colorado Water Congress, Environmental Defense Fund, National Park Service, States of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, The Nature Conservancy, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, Utah Water Users Association, Western Area Power Administration, and Wyoming Water Association.

Program cooperators in the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program include: Jicarilla Apache Nation, Navajo Nation, Southern Ute Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, States of Colorado and New Mexico, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, and various water development interests.

Newsletters »

Contact Us »

Project Leader: Dale Ryden
(970) 628-7200

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The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: July 09, 2020
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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