The Canyon Creek is nestled under the Mogollon Rim in the Tonto National Forest and sits at 6,600 feet in elevation with the hatchery located approximately 45 miles east of Payson. In the 1980’s, ZGTU adopted Canyon Creek and has completed numerous habitat restoration projects with AZGFD to improve the fishery.
Embrace-A-Stream (EAS) is a matching grant program administered by TU that awards funds to TU chapters and councils for coldwater fisheries conservation. ZGTU received a project grant in 2014 for temperature monitoring equipment to evaluate the recovery of streams in the upper Blue River, middle Gila River and San Simon River watersheds. Many of the streams in the historical distribution areas of Gila trout have undergone significant changes to the quality and quantity of available stream habitat for a variety of reasons.
Collecting stream temperature data as well as evaluating streams which were impacted by the Wallow Fire in 2011 has provided a framework for the recovery team to identify current opportunities for introduction of fish populations as well as removing certain streams from consideration due to unsuitable habitat.
Arizona and ZGTU members have been actively involved in protecting the land and watersheds of the Grand Canyon. In 2012 TU and Arizona sportsmen praised Interior Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar’s Record of Decision to protect one million acres of public lands and wildlife habitat surrounding the Grand Canyon from new uranium mining. TU and our conservation partners continue to remain vigilant in the protection of this natural treasure.
ZGTU continues its partnership with the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) in the Arizona Partnership Waters Program to work on the reintroduction and maintaining of Gila Trout in Grapevine Creek on the Prescott National Forest.
In 2013, AZGFD observed the first natural reproduction since stocking started which is good news for the long term stability of the population. There have been four years of stocking Gila trout in Grapevine Creek with 2014 being the third year in a row.
Lees Ferry (Colorado River)
The 16-mile stretch of clear flowing Colorado River winding through deep red rock canyons between the Glen Canyon Dam and the beginning of the Marble Canyon in northwest Arizona is commonly referred to as Lees Ferry. Since completion of the Dam in 1964, this area has supported a unique tailwater trout fishery that has grown in importance and reputation locally, regionally and nationally.
Glen Canyon Dam operations have direct and indirect effects on the Lees Ferry rainbow trout fishery. Water releases and temperatures affect the production of food, the diversity of insects in the river, the amount of trout spawning and the survival of young trout. As a result, the Lees Ferry trout fishery has experienced several significant population declines over the years which have adversely affected the quality of the fishery and the local guiding and lodging businesses that depend on it.
Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership have been working with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, federal agencies and a coalition of angling groups and businesses to implement the Lees Ferry Recreational Trout Fishery Management Recommendations (Recommendations).
The primary goal of the Recommendations is to maintain and enhance a wild (i.e. self-sustaining) Blue Ribbon rainbow trout fishery that does not adversely affect the downriver native fish community. In total, over 50 sportsmen and conservation groups, businesses and fishing guides have endorsed the Recommendations which will determine dam operations and restoration actions for the next 15 – 20 years.
Lower Salt River
In January 2013, the ZGTU Chapter Board of Directors began to identify major goals that could be addressed for Arizona which support Trout Unlimited’s mission to conserve, protect and restore coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.
It was determined that a significant opportunity was possible to work with a number of key stakeholders (local, state and federal governmental agencies, permit holders and others to be identified) to propose options for the enhancement of the Lower Salt River to improve the fishery and the riparian environment. This would initially involve the water flow immediately below Stewart Dam.
As has been done to improve many tailwaters, this opportunity and the benefits that can be derived are within reach creating an improved fishery and wildlife habitat. The water released from the bottom of the Stewart Dam would be clear, cold and rich in nutrients, providing minimum flows are established. The water creates an environment for insect proliferation which in turn would support an improved fish population, both in terms of quantity and average fish size.
The positive impact goes well beyond benefits to Arizona’s full time and winter residents when this recreational paradise becomes developed. There will be a significant economic impact brought by new visitors attracted to the Phoenix metro during the winter months for first class fishing and the related activities.
Fully understanding the challenge in achieving this goal and the tremendous value it would bring to Arizona in so many ways, it was a unanimous decision to move ahead with the research done previously to pursue this goal.
Based upon initial research, the idea to increase water flow of the Salt River and improve the fishery was begun around 2000. At that time, several ZGTU members spent six months pursuing the idea which included contacts with Salt River Project (SRP) and several other state and federal agencies. Approval was not granted to increase water flow and the initiative was dropped.
In January 2013 numerous contacts/conversations with interested parties were made to revisit the idea and determine the issues and challenges facing this goal.
Some background information on past discussions within Arizona Game and Fish Department about a possible tailwater fishery below the Stewart Mountain Dam was located. The key issues focused on temperature and flow. A summary of information found that water temperatures during July – August 1994 -1997 showed water temperatures ranging from 70 – 74 F (to high for trout survival) and Dissolved Oxygen (DO) levels were less than 5 which is lethal for rainbow trout. This type of data is vital for future discussions and decisions.
Challenges of Initiative
- SRP (Salt River Project) water flow levels and other issues must be discussed and negotiated with all identified key stakeholders.
- It is believed that bald eagles that occupy the river area received protection in (year) under an agreement to provide a minimum flow of 8 cfs to maintain enough for forage fish as a food source. Any detrimental impact on the eagle population will likely deny any change to existing operations.
- Science is needed to determine minimum flows to maintain temperature and adequate habitat for year round survival of trout populations.
Benefits of Initiative
- Various fishing, conservation and business organizations would partner to provide additional recreation and economic opportunities in the Phoenix metro.
- Opportunities for US Forest Service to increase recreational opportunities and to generate additional usage/parking fees to maintain existing parking, picnic and restroom facilities.
- New business opportunities for Float & Fishing Guide services and Saguaro Lake businesses.
- Arizona would develop a reputation as a location supporting a renowned tailwater river (e.g. San Juan, others).
Since 2013, water temperature and Dissolved Oxygen (DO) studies have been ongoing with the intent of developing several years of scientific data to provide proposed options. These proposals will include various alternatives for increased water flow levels which will decrease temperature levels during the winter months and increase the Dissolved Oxygen levels above that which is considered lethal.
State of the Trout Report
Trout now face a combination of many threats. Human population expansion has increased the demand for clean water with more water diverted for municipal, agricultural and energy development and impacts by wildfires, droughts and non-native species.
Trout Unlimited’s 2015 report details the status and trends within 28 separate species and subspecies of trout and char that are native to the U.S. Trout naturally occur in 38 of the 50 United States.
Of 28 native trout species and subspecies, three are extinct and six are listed as Threatened or Endangered. Excluding the extinct trout, 52 percent (13 of 25) occupy less than 25 percent of their historical habitat and are at high risk from at least one major threat. All native trout face some level of risk. The report provides an analysis of 10 large ecoregions, where threats and success stories of how to deal with these threats are described within this regional context.
Many conservation organizations are involved in working to protect the Verde River which balances the community water needs with the need to protect the base flow of the Verde and the use of water to benefit riparian habitats important to local economies.
ZGTU started an initiative in 2014 with AZGFD to research an eight mile stretch of the Verde River below Bartlett Lake for restoration and improvement as a trout fishery. Initial temperature monitorings and Dissolved Oxygen (DO) levels indicate levels would be good for the stocking and sustainability of trout. Several additional years of data will be gathered by AZGFD before future options are pursued.
Western Rivers Action Network (WRAN)
WRAN has established a critical voice of advocacy for healthy rivers that has grown to over 30,000 members to promote river health and to protect the unique habitat of the Colorado River Basin. The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water for tens of millions of people, including twenty-two Native American tribes and the populations of Phoenix, Tucson, Denver and many others.
Arizona Trout Unlimited members are actively involved with WRAN in monitoring activities, policy discussions and by attending various meetings with elected officials on water and conservation issues.
Various other projects are being pursued by ZGTU members. Suggestions for new projects or questions about current projects can be directed to any member of the ZGTU board.