Where cutthroats swim and cattle roam

Lahontan cutthroat trout occupy less than 9 percent of their historic stream and river habitat according to Trout Unlimited's State of the Trout Report.

By Brett Prettyman

Working to protect and restore the headwaters of North American streams and rivers benefits more than trout.

A myriad of species rely on the environments in and around the top reaches of rivers across the country. Most of the animals are native to the American landscape, but some were introduced and have played a key role in the livelihood of families for more than a century. Ranchers in the West have realized throughout the years that waters capable of supporting trout are also good for their cattle and the surrounding landscape.

A watershed restoration project on private and public land near Elko, Nevada, is benefitting threatened Lahontan cutthroat and the cattle of the Heguy family. The Susie Creek project has been highlighted by the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association and the Elko District of the Bureau of Land Management in the first of a series of articles showcasing ranching conservation projects on Lahontan cutthroat trout streams in Nevada.

The first piece recently ran in the Elko Daily Free Press and included this introduction from the authors. The stories will also run in various cattle industry publications.

“Anything that sustains agriculture in the environment is a good project as far as we are concerned. This project shows cooperation and collaboration from a lot of different agencies,” Ron Torell, president of the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, told Trout Unlimited. “It is just a terrific project.”

Carol Evans, a BLM fishery biologist, co-wrote the piece with Torell.

“Working with all the partners in the Susie Creek Basin over the course of almost 25 years and seeing these results has been the single most rewording experience of my career,” Evans said. “I am never ceased to be amazed at the synergy that happens when people come together with a common vision of what they want the landscape to be.”

Trout Unlimited participated in the Susie Creek project to evaluate habitat recovery. The TU science team used satellite imagery and aerial photos three decades old to track the progress.

“The results,” the piece reads, “are nothing short of amazing.”

Susie Creek as seen during a BLM Stream Survey in October of 1978. Stream and riparian habitat conditions are poor as shown by a poorly defined channel and a drying floodplain.  Most of the riparian vegetation on the floodplain is comprised of Kentucky bluegrass and other shallow-rooted species typical of a lack of persistent soil moisture.  Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management.

Susie Creek as seen from a BLM Stream Survey in May of 2015. Since implementation of rotational grazing practices in this area starting in 2008, Susie Creek is narrower and deeper and streambanks are stable and well vegetated.  The floodplain is much wetter now and supports wetland plant species over a broad area.  Note the area of new floodplain developing between the stream channel and the terrace slope to the right. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management.

The Heguy family allotment includes 37,000 acres of public land and 13,000 acres of private. Restoration work was done on the entire allotment and included help reseeding native vegetation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after a wildfire, water developments to draw cattle away from riparian areas and a pasture to manage timing and duration of grazing on the land.

The benefit for the threatened trout is colder water and more of it, as well as critical streamside vegetation. The evaluation showed riparian vegetation in the entire Susie Creek Basin increased by more than 100 acres. There had been no beaver dams in the system and there were 139 when the evaluation was done. More water was visible on the landscape and well monitoring showed an increase in shallow aquifers.

A spring complex adjacent to Susie Creek in October, 1978. High levels of trampling and compaction from concentrated livestock use limits infiltration and reduces the ability of this area to capture and store water. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Managament.

Ron Torell and Mitch Heguy standing at the same spring complex in May of 15. After seven years of rotational grazing management, the spring complex is saturated at the surface and wetland plant species such as sedges and rushes are expanding into adjacent uplands. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management.

“Ranching and the Lahontan cutthroat are part of Nevada’s outdoor heritage and Sagebrush TU is committed to conserving this heritage,” said Matt Maples, Sagebrush TU chapter president and a fisheries biologist. “Since 2010, the Sagebrush Chapter of Trout Unlimited has awarded more than $189,000 in grants through our Kroening Endowment for education, habitat restoration, and research. Many of these grants funded projects benefitting the Lahontan cutthroat trout, perhaps the best known of Nevada’s native trout. We are pleased and proud that some of this investment has helped build partnerships with ranchers to improve habitat and water availability for both fish and human use.”

Click here to see a video of a similar project in Nevada.

Brett Prettyman is TU's Intermountain Region (Wyoming, Utah, Nevada) communications director. He works from Salt Lake City. 


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