Community Agriculture Alliance: New target species for NRCS conservation |

Community Agriculture Alliance: New target species for NRCS conservation

Kaitlyn Vaux/For Steamboat Pilot & Today

“Helping people help the land.”

With this mantra, the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service has worked for more than 80 years to provide technical and financial assistance to America’s agricultural producers and others interested in making conservation work for all.

The Conservation Service program Working Lands for Wildlife is a targeted, science-based effort to help producers restore and protect habitat for at-risk species. The WLFW Sage Grouse Initiative, for example, has enabled producers to conserve more than 5 million acres of prime sage grouse habitat. Target species are used as benchmarks for success because their habitat needs are representative of healthy, functioning ecosystems, and conservation efforts have potential to benefit a greater suite of species. As of 2016, the newest WLFW species here in Colorado is the cutthroat trout.

The WLFW cutthroat initiative aims to augment 6,500 acres of cutthroat habitat by fiscal year 2019. With the focus of the initiative being stream habitat management and improvement, projects may include conservation practices such as riparian vegetation enhancement, adjusted grazing management, fish passage, more efficient irrigation infrastructure and improved stream flows.

Cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki) is in the Salmonid family and has 14 recognized sub-species. Three of these sub-species — the Colorado River, Greenback and Rio Grande sub-species — are native to Colorado. The distribution of cutthroats has declined during the past 150 years due to degradation or fragmentation of habitat as well as the spread of non-native fish species. Colorado River, Greenback and Rio Grande cutthroat trout currently occupy less than 17 percent of their native ranges.

Cutthroat trout live in clear, cold headwater lakes, streams and rivers. Ideal habitat includes well vegetated and stable stream banks; instream complexity, such as pools and riffles; and cover, such as overhanging vegetation and instream objects like rocks and logs. Cutthroats are opportunistic feeders and primarily consume invertebrates, zooplankton and small fish.

One WLFW cutthroat project is on a tributary of the Blue River, south of Kremmling. The project aims to improve and expand habitat for a genetically pure cutthroat trout population with the removal of a fish passage barrier and augmentation of instream complexity and the riparian buffer. Through a collaborative effort between private landowners, NRCS and other federal and state agencies, the project will reconnect and enhance approximately five contiguous stream miles of cutthroat habitat – a win-win outcome for all.

Have a cutthroat conservation project in mind? For more details about the WLFW cutthroat initiative, contact the Conservation Service Steamboat Springs field office at 970-879-3225 or email Kaitlyn Vaux at Information can also be found at

Kaitlyn Vaux is an aquatic biologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Trout Unlimited, working across Northwest Colorado to assist private landowners with implementing projects that benefit local agriculture and fisheries.

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