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Southeastern Oregon Fire Destroys Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Habitat, Kills Fish
Posted on Friday, September 07, 2012 (PST)

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife last week it will suspend fishing in several Lahontan cutthroat trout streams in southeast Oregon due to severe habitat damage from the recent Holloway fire.

The following streams will be closed to all fishing beginning Sept. 1 until further notice:

--In the Willow-Whitehorse Basin: all streams including but not limited to Cottonwood, Doolittle, Fifteeenmile, Little Whitehorse, Whitehorse and Willow creeks.

--In the McDermitt Creek Subbasin: Cottonwood, McDermitt and N. Fork McDermitt creeks.

-- In the Quinn Basin (Malheur County): Indian and Sage creeks will remain closed.

The Holloway fire burned 245,505 acres in Oregon in the far southeastern corner of the state near the Nevada border.

According to Shannon Hurn, ODFW fish biologist in Hines, the fire totally destroyed the riparian vegetation on some stream sections and fire fighters observed fish dying from asphyxiation during the fire. Long-term impacts could include higher water temperatures in summer, lower water temperatures in winter and increased sediment from eroding soils, she said.

The loss is particularly notable because the burned area includes Oregon’s only pure native Lahontan cutthroat trout populations.

“While it’s too soon to know the full impact of the fire on the trout population, we believe it will be profound,” she said. “However, we’re hopeful that enough fish and riparian habitat survived the fire to rebuild the population.”

Lahontan cutthroat trout can grow to be the largest of all cutthroat trout and were once found throughout desert basins in parts of California, Nevada and southeast Oregon. In recent decades, many populations have disappeared due to dam construction, habitat loss and the introduction of non-native brown, brook and rainbow trout.

The species has been protected since 1973 and is currently listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. In 2006, it was identified in the Oregon Conservation Strategy as a species in need of conservation.

In 1989 biologists counted only 8,000 Lahontan trout in the Whitehorse basin. During the most recent population survey in 2011, the population was estimated at 23,800. Several streams were opened to catch-and-release fishing in 2001 due to growing or stable populations.

Hurn credits the population rebound in the 1990s to the efforts of the Trout Creek Mountain Working Group, a coalition of ranchers, government agencies, and environmental advocacy groups that have been working on Lahontan cutthroat trout recovery since the late 1980s.

Much of the riparian habitat restored by the Working Group was destroyed in the fire.

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