U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
|Fish, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation|
Fish Habitat Conservation
Few resource agencies conduct fish habitat restoration and enhancement on the same scale as the BLM. The majority of this work is accomplished with partners. Since 2000, the BLM’s Fisheries Program and partners have restored or enhanced fish habitat in 5,562 miles of stream and 113,592 acres of lakes and reservoirs. The BLM annually conducts maintenance on about 2,000 fish habitat projects.
Case Study: BLM-Colorado Improves Trout Habitat in the Lake Fork Gunnison River
The Gunnison River in southwestern Colorado contains one of the country's premiere fly-fishing destinations. However, several years ago, whirling disease significantly impacted the rainbow trout population Gunnison Gorge, through which the river flows. Trout Unlimited's local chapter, Gunnison Gorge Anglers, and the Colorado Division of Wildlife have since introduced disease resistant rainbow trout and today, the future looks good for the species.
The BLM manages important habitat for this and other fish species and conducts numerous habitat improvement projects throughout the year. In one example, the BLM’s Gunnison Field Office called in the heavy equipment to enhance habitat for the brown and rainbow trout in the popular Lake Fork Gunnison River. This is a tributary to the Gunnison River. Boulders and rock collected from the surrounding area were placed in the river as pool forming structures to increase holding habitat, slower-moving water used for resting and cover by both juvenile and adult fish. This project also complements ongoing efforts by the BLM to acquire private lands and conservation easements to increase angler access to blue ribbon fisheries streams.
Top photo: Lake Fork Gunnison River - Photo courtesy Colorado Division of Wildlife
Native fish in the Gila River basin have suffered significant declines due to nonnative fish, habitat loss and habitat degradation. To help reverse this trend, BLM recently completed several fish restoration projects in Bonita Creek, working with the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Arizona State University, University of Arizona, and the City of Safford. The projects entailed segregating nonnative fish from native fish, introducing native fish species that once were abundant, and protecting habitat to prevent reinvasions.
Bonita Creek is one of just a few perennial streams in Arizona that supports an intact assemblage of native fish species. It is located within the BLM-managed Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area and is considered a high priority for native fish recovery due to its native fishes uncontaminated by nonnative aquatic organisms in the stream's upper reaches. Native fish in Bonita Creek were captured and placed in ventilated holding tanks. The City of Safford partnered with the BLM by providing water from their water line in Bonita Creek. Nonnative fish were removed from Bonita Creek upstream of the new fish barrier prior to the release of the native fish.
Native fish spent several days in holding tanks awaiting release back to Bonita Creek after the removal of nonnatives. In addition to the native species already found in the creek, Federally listed loach minnow, spikedace, Gila topminnow, and desert pupfish were also introduced, bringing the total fish species to nine, which is unique in the Southwest. This includes five that are listed as federally threatened or endangered species.
Native turtles were placed in small swimming pools and held during the process of removing the nonnative fish. These turtles were later returned to the stream near where they were captured. Personnel from Arizona Game and Fish Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were partners on this project.
The Bureau of Reclamation constructed the Bonita Creek Nonnative Fish Barrier. It is designed to prevent upstream migration of nonnative fish from the Gila River into middle and upper Bonita Creek.
Of note: Arizona-BLM fishery biologist Heidi Blasius was named 2009 Natural Resource Professional of the Year by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission. in recognition of her work on this and other fisheries projects in Arizona.
Photos by Diane Drobka, BLM