From late August through November, bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) make their annual pilgrimage to spawning grounds throughout the Yakima Basin. There are over fifteen distinct bull trout populations in the headwaters of the Upper Yakima and Naches basins. Volunteers from around the basin are gearing up to complete annual redd (spawning site) counts, These are our best indicator of bull trout population health. Unfortunately, redd counts are declining for many of our populations.
There are several causes for the decline in bull trout populations. The leading cause is the degradation of spawning and rearing habitat. Spawning bull trout and their young require pristine cold stream habitat that are typically located at high elevations in the mountains. While adult bull trout may utilize downriver habitat for foraging, migration and overwintering, suitable spawning habitat is essential for completion of the life cycle.
In an effort to address population decline and prioritized conservation strategies, local partners developed a Bull Trout Action Plan
(BTAP, which was released in 2012. The BTAP was written by the Yakima Basin Fish and Wildlife Recovery Board, WDFW and the USFWS, with review from a broader local bull trout working group. The Bull Trout Action Plan is not an official “recovery plan”, but is intended to complement and support the pending USFWS bull trout recovery plan. A draft of the USFWS plan will be released by the end of September 2014.
The local bull trout recovery group is now working to ensure that priorities identified in the BTAP are implemented. Local partners are partnering with Jason Dunham and his team with the USGS in Corvallis to evaluate bull trout habitat. The evaluation looks a temperature data, migratory patterns, human influences, and climate indicators to identify where bull trout are and are not likely to persist. Similar modeling efforts are underway in the Malheur, Klamath, Boise, Wenatchee, Lower Pend Oreille, and Clackamas Basins. This model will be customized for the Yakima Basin, and will help local partners prioritize restoration and recovery efforts.
Local partners are are moving forward with research and outreach efforts. The Gold Creek project
is researching why some reaches of Gold Creek dry up most years, and a small research team is investigating passage for the North Fork Tieton population at Clear Lake Dam. The Bull Trout Task Force (BTTF) is out in force this summer educating anglers and removing recreational dams.
Bull trout recovery is a team effort, and there is a role for everyone to play. We welcome community participation. Here are some quick stewardship actions to share with your neighbors.
How you can help bull trout:
Know your bull trout! Incidental take of bull trout can impact to populations. Bull trout are listed as a Threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. It is important to be able to correctly identify and release bull trout if caught. How to identify
Recreational dams are a great way to cool off in the summer, but can block upstream migration of bull trout. Please be responsible stewards and do not leave dams or other structures in the stream. Report dams