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'Native trout are in trouble across the country'

Emily Yehle, E&E reporter  | Published on 6/23/2015
 Climate change is the biggest threat facing native trout, prompting the need for large-scale restoration projects that reconnect streams to floodplains and provide the diminishing fish with more habitat, according to a new report from a sportsmen's group. Trout Unlimited's 80-page report takes an exhaustive look at the status of trout in each of 10 regions. It also serves as a kind of mission statement for a group that aims to protect the country's 25 species and subspecies of native trout and the pristine water they inhabit. In a call with reporters today, Trout Unlimited President Chris Wood touted the report as the "most comprehensive" of its kind. The steps to protecting trout are clear, he argued, but "we're running out of time." "In short, the findings are that native trout are in trouble across the country," Wood said. "The fact is that trout are incredibly resilient creatures. If we give these fish half a chance, they will respond." So far, three species of trout have gone extinct. Of those left, more than half occupy less than 25 percent of their historical habitat, according to the report. Some have retreated to just 10 percent of their range. The report outlines four major threats: climate change, non-native species, energy development and water use. The first two pose the biggest problem and can be alleviated somewhat through restoration and more aggressive control of non-natives, according to the report. The regional challenges of implementing such steps were evident by the variety of questions Wood fielded on today's call. Trout are in streams throughout various localities, where their habitat has been fragmented and degraded by dams, logging, mining, grazing and other land uses. Various non-native species also sometimes compete. In southern Minnesota, for example, the native brook trout lives in the same streams as the non-native brown trout -- an introduced fish that is popular among anglers. Asked whether Trout Unlimited was advocating for the removal of brown trout, senior scientist Jack Williams said officials "have to draw the line somewhere" to control the non-native population. "I think the specific answer to that is where the brown trout are invading the strongholds of brook trout, then that's the areas we really need to make an effort to control them," Williams said. Wood added that such issues need to be considered on a case-by-case basis. Williams, who is the main author of the report, also emphasized the need to stop any new energy developments in places where trout are still living in good-quality habitat. But his main message was the need for "diverse" partnerships -- including agencies, companies and conservationists -- that can implement expensive restoration work. "I think that's one of the big things that comes out of this -- is how we should tackle restoration if you're working at large scales across an entire watershed," Williams said. "One small stream segment isn't going to do it."