Projects & Activities
The conservation of native fish species and their habitat is a top priority for the AZFWCO. We are the Service's lead station for recovery of the threatened Apache trout and Little Colorado spinedace. We also work with loach minnow, Gila topminnow, desert pupfish, and "big river" fishes: razorback sucker, humpback chub, and bonytail that inhabit the Colorado River. Our recovery efforts include renovating streams and other aquatic habitats inhabited by nonnative fish species that out-compete and often prey upon native fish. Additional efforts include constructing barriers to prevent upstream migration of nonnative species, translocating native fish populations into suitable habitat, restoring fish passage to previously inaccessible habitat, and monitoring fish populations.
Return of the Natives
Objectives for Apache Trout recovery include the establishment and maintenance of 30 self-sustaining populations. Toward these ends, we continue to make progress. The AZFWCO Apache Trout Crew, hired annually in the summer months, participate in several recovery efforts which include, brown trout removal efforts from Apache trout streams and stream habitat restoration work. Much of this work is taking place on Tribal lands.
In 2011, staff from the AZFWCO worked with personnel from Arizona Game and Fish Department to conduct a chemical renovation of Ash Creek on Mt. Graham in the southeastern part of the state, treating eight miles of the stream with rotenone to remove rainbow-Apache trout hybrids. Following completion of follow up surveys, the stream was stocked twice in 2011 with Gila trout, adding to a population that will help meet Gila trout recovery goals. Also on Mt. Graham, we stocked Frye Mesa Reservoir with Gila trout from Mora NFH, an effort that establishes the first sport fishery for Gila trout in the state.
In 2012, staff facilitated the translocation of 210 Gila trout from Spruce Creek, in New Mexico, into a two-mile stretch of Ash Creek, in Arizona. This effort was extremely important, the wild Spruce Creek population may have been lost due to the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire in New Mexico, the largest wildfire in the states history.
Life Support on the Colorado River
The bonytail is one of the most endangered fish in North America. Without intensive management and conservation efforts, the species is likely to continue to decline as a result of habitat loss and competition from and predation by nonnative fish. With cooperation of a number of partners, we believe our efforts will help reverse the decline of the species. We continue working toward the goal of reestablishing self-sustaining populations of bonytail along the Colorado River to help meet down-listing and delisting criteria.
Razorback Sucker was once one of the most abundant native fish in the Colorado River, but, like the bonytail, the species has dramatically suffered from habitat loss and competition with nonnative fish species. The most abundant razorback sucker populations are now mostly comprised of fish stocked from our hatcheries into Lake Mohave and Lake Havasu, where monitoring remains a vital component to survival. Because young razorbacks are threatened by predation from other species, another essential component to staving off extinction is the bolstering of existing populations by collecting larval fish, growing them out to fingerlings, restocking them into the reservoirs, backwaters, or even the river's mainstream.
The humpback chub has been endangered since 1967 and is the focus of intensive monitoring and recovery efforts by the Service and our partners. Historically, humpback chub in the Colorado River system were abundant and widespread. However, factors including habitat fragmentation, lower water temperatures, and predation by nonnative fishes have reduced the native cyprinid to small, fragmented populations within the Colorado River Basin. The AZFWCO staff, volunteers and partners at the National Park Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department work together in tagging, completing fishery surveys and translocation projects.
Aquatic Invasive Species
Giant Salvinia poses a gargantuan threat to the waters of Arizona. Discovered in the lower Colorado River in 1999, the invasive plant can overtake waters and reduce water quality through reduction of dissolved oxygen, which can decimate both native and sport fish populations. The actual plant biomass can even reduce the ability of boats to use invaded waters. Fortunately, control efforts were started before the plant could become too widespread. Still, diligent control is required to keep the constant threat in check. AZFWCO staff along with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation personnel conduct control efforts throughout the year, which include spraying, density surveys, and water quality measurements in association with the spraying.
Water Quality and Contaminant Testing
Water Contamination can pose major problems for fish, natural habitat, and human health, not to mention seriously effect water quality. The AZFWCO staff has made water analysis and contaminations testing essential requirements of our work. We work with the Arizona Ecological Services office in collecting fish samples for contaminants testing and studies, and we conduct water quality sampling of native fish grow-out sites. Additionally, we complete water quality surveys at Alamo Lake as part of a special agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program
A coordinated, comprehensive, long-term multi-agency effort, the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program, is aimed at endangered species and the protection of their habitat on the lower Colorado River. The AZFWCO staff work with staff members from regional fish hatcheries, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on work-plans, partnerships, and field station agreements.
Desert Fish Habitat Partnership
The AZFWCO office spearheaded the Desert Fish Habitat Partnership (DFHP), which will benefit native desert fishes by bringing agencies, organizations, and the public together to work towards the recovery and conservation of these imperiled species and their habitats. The program's primary purpose is to conserve aquatic habitat in the arid west for desert fishes by protecting, restoring and enhancing these unique habitats in cooperation with other federal and stat agencies, tribes, conservation groups, local partners, and the public. By partnering across geo-political boundaries, DFHP will pursue more effective management strategies than are generally achieved on a local, smaller scale to address the Great Basin and Mohave deserts, and those portions of the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts that lie within the United States. The benefits of aquatic habitat conservation extend beyond desert fishes to include human and other animal and plant species. We have also established a facebook page with information on activities and other news.
Habitat Conservation Plans
Many of Arizona's native fishes occur on private lands, but landowners can be hesitant to assist with recovery efforts for fear of the implications of having endangered species on their properties. This is why a suite of innovative partnerships geared toward protecting the interests of both landowners and the species on their properties has been developed. Habitat Conservation Plans have been extremely successful in Arizona, where El Coronado Ranch set the stage for the first completion of such a plan in the state, enhancing conservation and recovery efforts for Rio Yaqui native fishes.