by John N. Rinne-USFS
PHOENIX ó They vanished from Arizona waters years ago, but
now, the Gila trout may have recovered enough to be reclassified as
a "threatened" species, rather than an "endangered" one.
The Gila trout is one of only two native trout species in
Arizona. Under a new proposal, the fish would be upgraded to
"threatened" on the federal governmentís list.
"Some great strides have been made in Gila trout recovery so
far," says Eric Gardner, head of the Arizona Game and Fish
Departmentís non-game branch. "Weíre working hard on native
fish-conservation issues in Arizona, and itís rewarding to reach
Still, our work is not finished."
The Gila trout has been considered "endangered" since 1967. The
species is native to some cold mountain streams in western New
Mexico and central and eastern Arizona. The introduction of
non-native fish and also human actions in the late 1800s through the
mid-1900s resulted in the loss or degradation of much of the Gila
The fish disappeared from Arizona around 1900.
Since 1999, the species has been returned to two Arizona creeks,
and work is underway to re-establish the trout in more streams.
Arizona efforts are focused on streams that flow into the Blue River
and upper Verde River drainages.
New Mexico efforts center around the headwaters of the Gila
If the Gila trout is designated as "threatened," then anglers in
Arizona could have an opportunity to fish for the species in
certain, specified waters sometime in the future.
"Few people alive today have caught a Gila," says Dale Hall,
Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serviceís Southwest Region.
"We think Gila trout populations can withstand fishing pressure
under the right conditions."
"Gila trout populations could be developed in the future that
could provide unique catch-and-release fishing opportunities that
would be carefully managed by the state," says Larry Riley, head of
the Arizona Game and Fish Departmentís fisheries branch.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make the final decision
on whether to change the status of the Gila trout. Those interested
can get a copy of the proposal by calling toll-free (800) 299-0196.
"The work of several groups is bringing us all one step closer to
the ultimate goal of full recovery of the Gila trout," says Arizona
Game and Fish Department fish biologist Scott Gurtin. "These
collaborative efforts, with a solid foundation of Arizona Heritage
Fund financial support, have made all the difference.
"Itís important to note that Gila trout recovery efforts have
taken place under full protection of the Endangered Species Act,
with crucial cooperation from many agencies, conservation groups,
landowners, and those with permits to use public lands."
Partners involved in Gila trout recovery include the Arizona Game
and Fish Department, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation. Conservation groups, including Trout Unlimited and
Federation of Fly Fishers, have also gotten involved.
The Gila trout is an iridescent gold- and copper-colored fish
with small black spots on its sides and back. This type of trout
grows to be about a foot long.