Questions & Answers
FAQ's Apache Trout Proposed Delisting
What are Apache trout?
The Apache trout is a gamefish species found only in eastern Arizona's streams and creeks surrounding the White Mountains. It is one of only two trout species native to Arizona, the other being the closely related Gila trout. Along with cutthroat and rainbow trout, the Apache trout is considered a Pacific trout (genus Oncorhynchus). It was not recognized as a separate species until 1972, soon after that it was named Arizona’s state fish. If delisted, it would be the first gamefish to be removed from the threatened and endangered species list.
What do Apache trout look like?
Apache trout can measure up to 24 inches in length and can weigh up to 6 pounds, although in their native headwater streams, they don’t exceed 16 inches. Like Gila trout, Apache trout are yellowish gold in color and covered in dark spots but are known to have fewer and larger spots than Gila trout. Apache trout can also be differentiated from Gila trout by a distinct black eye band that gives the Apache trout the appearance of a mask.
What lead to Apache trout being threatened with extinction?
Beginning in the late 1800s when Anglo-American settlers began to populate Arizona, Apache trout likely suffered from overfishing as the species is popular as both a sportfish and as table fare. Apache trout populations have also suffered from habitat degradation due to various land uses (e.g., timber harvest, road construction, cattle grazing) and wildfires.
The largest threat to Apache trout populations has been the introduction of non-native trout. Originally introduced for food and recreation, brook and brown trout outcompete with and prey directly on Apache trout. Introduced rainbow and cutthroat trout can hybridize with the Apache trout, diluting their unique gene pool. Much of the restoration work has involved removing these introduced trout from the Apache trout habitat and constructing barriers to block further non-native invasions.
Freshwater fish and wildlife are some of the most imperiled species on the planet and are declining across the country. Improving is the most effective way to help conserve these species while promoting safer community infrastructure and mitigating . We have a continued commitment as a nation to protect imperiled species and through initiatives like the , we are funding projects that will tackle these threats.
When did Apache trout conservation begin?
In 1955, the White Mountain Apache Tribe took unprecedented and predictive action to close angling in all populations of Apache trout on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. That closure began the conservation efforts for the species well before the federal Endangered Species Act passed into law. Additional fishing closures, habitat management actions, watershed and trout management plans, and establishing 13 additional populations on and off the reservation from relict populations on Tribal lands followed in subsequent years.
In the 1970s, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the White Mountain Apache Tribe began working in earnest on habitat restoration projects, removing non-native fishes and conducting stream-to-stream transfers of known pure Apache trout populations to establish new populations.
Working with state and federal agencies, the Tribe also began a hatchery program for Apache trout. That hatchery raises millions of eggs that eventually grow into catchable fish. About 38,000 Apache trout are stocked in lakes and streams like the North Fork of the White River each April-September. For more information, please visit the Williams Creek National Fish Hatchery website.
Thanks to conservation efforts led by the White Mountain Apache Tribe and collaboration among Tribal, state, and federal partners, Apache trout populations are rebounding. Removing outdated barriers will reconnect fragmented habitat and Apache trout populations, increasing genetic diversity. Projects funded through the , such as the 2022 Apache Trout Recovery Fish Passage Infrastructure Project and the 2023 Crooked Creek Route 55 Culvert Fish Passage Project, both led by the White Mountain Apache Tribe, are supporting the recovery of Apache trout by replacing culverts, removing barriers, and creating larger meta-populations of Apache Trout by re-opening access to over 60 miles of habitat.
When was Apache trout first listed in the ESA?
The Apache trout was listed as endangered in 1967 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act, a precursor to the Endangered Species Act. In 1975, because additional pure populations were found on the Fort Apache Reservation and captive culturing was successful, the species and opened to angling in select locations where they were stocked.
What does Apache trout conservation action look like today?
While many relict strains of the Apache trout were likely lost to hybridization and habitat loss, 17 of the original strains were preserved thanks to the White Mountain Apache Tribe’s early conservation measures.
With modern genetic testing techniques, field biologists can take water samples from streams and analyze them for environmental DNA, identifying what kind of trout populate any given area of a stream. If non-native trout are detected, biologists return to the stream and wade through it with electro-fishing equipment. They temporarily stun and then remove any non-native trout. Barriers are constructed to protect the Apache trout populations and habitat in headwaters and also provide for managed non-native trout sportfishing opportunities in downstream reaches.
Another conservation measure involves treating streams with a chemical to eradicate all non-native trout in the stream. Rains that follow a wildfire cause a similar effect. Following one of these chemical renovations, native Apache trout are then transferred to the newly cleared and blocked headwater streams in the White Mountains where they can flourish once again without the encroachment of introduced brook, brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout.
Why is the Service proposing to remove Apache trout from the ESA?
The first recovery plan was developed in 1979, then revised in 1983 and 2009. Recovery plans clarify delisting criteria for threatened and endangered species. The recovery plan successfully reached its goal of having 30 genetically pure populations of the Apache trout with sufficient habitat to support self-sustaining populations.
What is a Species Status Assessment?
We used the species status assessment framework to summarize and analyze the best available information concerning the Apache trout. The draft SSA report was peer-reviewed and later updated to include all field survey data collected through 2021. The 2022 SSA, developed by biologists from White Mountain Apache Tribe, Arizona Game and Fish Department, U.S. Forest Service, Trout Unlimited, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, confirms that the goal of 30 genetically pure self-sustaining populations has been reached. The SSA report was also relied upon to complete a 5-year status review for Apache trout, which recommended delisting due to recovery.
Do these threats still exist? Will conservation efforts continue if the Apache trout is delisted?
Non-native trout do remain in streams once inhabited by Apache trout and in stream reaches downstream of Apache trout recovery populations. Although the goal of 30 streams has been achieved (meeting the criteria for delisting according to the Apache trout recovery plan), not all of the species’ original stream miles have been reclaimed, and recovery efforts are still ongoing. The Apache Trout Cooperative Management Plan, which was developed alongside the Species Status Assessment in 2021, was signed by partner organizations, and details continued funding and responsibilities among several recovery partner organizations.
Is the Apache trout considered a unique species? How has this changed over time?
Apache trout taxonomy has evolved due to advances in molecular techniques and phylogenetic analyses. These advances have led to a better understanding of the Apache trout’s relationship to other closely related species and ancient ancestors, and not surprisingly, the species has been renamed several times.
Native trout have been known to scientists to occur in the White Mountains of Arizona since at least 1873. Specimens collected from the White River were first described as Colorado River Cutthroat Trout O. c. pleuriticus (Cope and Yarrow 1875; as cited in USFWS 2009), and specimens collected from the Little Colorado River were referred to as Salmo mykiss pleuriticus (Jordan and Evermann 1896; as cited in USFWS 2009).
However, it was not until 1972 that the Apache trout was originally described as Salmo apache owing to fewer and larger spots than Gila trout and a horizontal band across the eye absent in Gila trout (Miller 1972). At that time, the Apache trout was split out from the Gila trout (described in Miller 1950), which is what all trout native to the Gila River basin had been referred to before that time (Miller 1972). The Apache trout was renamed Oncorhynchus apache when Pacific trouts were reclassified to Oncorhynchus (Smith and Stearley 1989). Behnke (1992) referred to Apache trout and Gila trout as subspecies of the same species (O. gilae apache and O. gilae gilae, respectively), and the Apache trout trinomial was recognized by the American Fisheries Society in 2004 (Nelson et al. 2004).
However, the American Fisheries Society now recognizes Apache Trout as O. apache in the 7th Edition of Common and Scientific Names (Page et al. 2013). The common name Arizona Trout was originally linked to Salmo apache, but in 1980 the American Fisheries Society accepted the species’ common name change to Apache trout (Robins et al. 1980).
How can the public submit information on the proposal?
The Service encourages the public, Tribes, academia, federal and state agencies, industry, and other stakeholders to review the proposal and provide comments. The decision to delist Apache trout species or withdraw the proposal will be based on the best available science. A final decision to delist or withdraw the proposal is typically made within one year after the proposal is published in the Federal Register.
Written comments and information concerning the proposed delisting rules will be accepted until October 10, 2023, and may be submitted by one of the following methods:
Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS-R2-ES-2022-0115 which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”
By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R2-ES-2022-0115; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Headquarters, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
The Service will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means the agency will post any personal information provided throughout the process. The Service is not able to accept email or fax.
The Service remains interested in information regarding the status and conservation of, and any potential threat to, the Apache trout. Please submit information by email to email@example.com.