Endangered Sierra: The Treasure at the end of the Rainbow   Leave a comment

The Lahontan cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki henshawi) lives in the Great Basin of Nevada, and areas of eastern California and southern Oregon. For thousands of years these fish, one of four major types of trout (the others are the brook, brown, and rainbow trouts), have thrived in the streams, rivers and lakes of a mostly semi-arid desert environment, often living in extreme conditions of heat, cold, altitude and drought. They have developed an unusually high tolerance for alkaline and saline water – meaning they can live in waters were few other fish can survive – and have been so successful in it’s native environment that for generations, Native American Indians have relied on the trout as a major source of food and less than a hundred years ago people reported seeing the rivers so packed with trout a fisherman could reach into the water and grab any fish he wanted. The record-size trout of any type ever found was a Lahontan Cutthroat weighing 41 pounds!

Today, however it’s a different story. This once-plentiful and established species can now only be found in 8.6% of it’s native stream habitat and has been lost from almost 99% of its historic lake habitat. Logging, soil disturbance and run-off have clogged and smothered the streams the fish need to survive, while environmental damage and fragmentation – primarily by altering the routes of rivers and building dams for human use – have been impossible challenges for the species to overcome. In addition, the introduction of non-native fish into areas where the Lahontan previously flourished led to this historic fish to be one of the first species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1975.

Original populations of the species only remain in two small lakes and sections of isolated streams. Other lakes have the potential to be restored, but water quality, non-native fish and environmental issues need to reviewed before any of the Lahontan Cutthroats could be moved into these areas. Almost every part of the historic range is at high risk for at least one or more challenges such as extreme climate change, fire, flood, drought, soil runoff or human disturbance which could destroy a significant portion of this Endangered population.

Lahontan Cutthroat USGS

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