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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
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Fish Tales

Contacts: Karen Miranda Gleason 303-236-7917, x431
                  Kerry Grande 303-969-7322 x227

                                    Fly Shop Helps Stop Spread of Whirling Disease

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has presented an award to High Country Flies, a fly fishing shop in Jackson, Wyoming, for its proactive work to prevent the spread of whirling disease. During the recent annual banquet of Trout Unlimited in Jackson, Regional Fisheries Supervisor Carol Taylor presented a plaque to business owner Howard Cole.

For the past two years, High Country Flies has provided disinfecting stations – chlorine-filled dip tanks – at access points to Flat Creek, a popular trophy fishery on the National Elk Refuge. The dip tanks provide an easy way for anglers to clean their boots and equipment when entering the area, killing the spores that cause whirling disease and protecting Snake River cutthroat trout, whitefish, and other native species that inhabit the stream.

"Protecting our fisheries resources is everybody’s business," said Regional Director Ralph Morgenweck. "Actions like this, by concerned individuals who care about natural resources, make all the difference."

Flat Creek is visited by about 5,000 anglers a year and hosts an annual "One-Fly" fishing contest. Last year, the World Fly Fishing Championships were held there.

"When anglers are out on Flat Creek, do I know where their waders have been?" said Jackson National Fish Hatchery manager Kerry Grande, who lives near Flat Creek. "No, but I do know that the dip tanks are there and that they are maintained and used." The hose at Grande’s house provides water for the tanks.

"I also notice quite a bit of plant material and seeds in the tubs," added Grande, "so the dip tanks could be assisting in the reduction and control of noxious weeds. That’s a pleasant by-product of this effort to protect fish."

Whirling disease was first introduced to the United States from Europe in the early 1900's through infected brown trout that were brought to Pennsylvania. The highly infectious disease has gradually moved to lakes and streams in western States. The disease can be spread by fish, people, dogs, birds, boat trailers, hip boots, and fishing equipment that have been in infected waters. Once entering a water body, the disease persists through spores that can live for up to 30 years, even in dried-up streambeds.

"We can’t disinfect a river," said Fisheries Supervisor Mike Stempel. "Educating people about whirling disease is the best way to contain the spread and minimize impacts to wild fish."

National Fish Hatcheries have remained free of whirling disease primarily by using water from underground wells or springs, which are safe from infection. Water open to the air in lakes and streams is susceptible to infection by bird, raccoons, and other animals carrying the spores. Hatcheries near infected streams and lakes protect their facilities by covering outdoor ponds, blocking access by wildlife.

Leadville National Fish Hatchery in Leadville, Colorado, is the only facility in the National Fish Hatchery System that has tested positive for whirling disease. The federally managed hatchery, which produces fish to mitigate losses caused by the dam at nearby Turquoise Lake and to support recovery of endangered fish in the Colorado River, does not have an adequate supply of spring water and must also use surface water. The disease is believed to have entered the hatchery from lake water in 1995.

"If you can’t get spring-fed water, you’re open to the whims of nature," said Stempel.

The Service has proposed a solution to the problem at the Leadville National Fish Hatchery through use of state-of-the-art ultraviolet light technology to treat the lake water and kill whirling disease spores before the water enters the hatchery operation.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 530 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

Photographs to accompany this story are available at the Jackson National Fish Hatchery website:

For more information on the Service’s Fisheries Program in the Mountain-Prairie Region, please visit our main website at

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