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Paiute Cutthroat Trout

Oncorhynchus clarkii seleniris

Distribution and Habitat

Native to Silver King Creek and tributaries in the headwaters of the East Fork Carson River drainage.

The historic range of Paiute cutthroat trout included eleven miles of stream habitat in Silver King Creek and tributaries, from Llewellyn Falls downstream to a steep gorge section with a series of natural waterfalls located upstream of Snodgrass Creek.

Paiute cutthroat trout were introduced into Silver King Creek above Llewellyn Falls (upstream of their historic range) during 1912 by Basque sheep herders. To create additional refuge populations, Paiute cutthroat trout were introduced into other headwater tributaries within the Silver King Creek watershed, as well as out-of-basin in four stream systems.

Threats

Past habitat degradation from sheep and cattle grazing was a significant threat to the Paiute cutthroat trout; however, cattle grazing was halted in 1994. To protect this subspecies and its habitat, grazing is no longer allowed in the upper Silver King Creek basin above Snodgrass Creek.

The introduction of non-native trout into their historic range was a major cause of the Paiute cutthroat trout’s decline. They remain at risk from interbreeding and competition with non-native trout as long as they exist below Llewellyn Falls.

Current populations are small and isolated by waterfall fish barriers, putting them at risk from potential hybridization with non-native trout as well as wildfires, drought, and climate change.


Conservation and Management

Restoration efforts have occurred in the Silver King Creek basin for over 60 years and the populations are monitored annually. To further their protection, progeny from the 1912 shepherd transplant were introduced into other fishless waters of the Sierra Nevada, outside the Paiute cutthroat trout’s historic range, creating out-of-basin refuge populations. However, given the limited range and size of the refuge populations within the Silver King Creek Watershed, angling is currently prohibited in those waters.

A restoration project to remove non-native fish below Llewellyn Falls was implemented in 2013 and will continue until non-native fish are no longer present. The ultimate goal is to recover the Paiute cutthroat trout to a sustainable level by re-establishing a self-sustaining population within their entire native range. The Paiute cutthroat trout is a federally-listed Threatened species and this restoration work is a major component of the recovery effort. It will expand the population’s protected stream habitat by approximately 11 miles and serve as a buffer against extinction from threats such as wildfire, drought, and disease. Since the amount of habitat for the fish will almost double, a much larger population of Paiute cutthroat trout is expected to exist in the future. A larger population will be more resistant to the genetic threats that small, isolated populations face over time. When the fish is restored to its historic range, it is anticipated that a stream segment could be opened to a special regulation fishery for anglers to catch and release Paiute cutthroat trout.

During this restoration project, the stream was treated with rotenone (a piscicide) to remove non-native trout from Silver King Creek and associated tributaries between Snodgrass Creek and Llewellyn Falls. Chemical treatment was the preferred alternative identified in the link opens in new windowPaiute Cutthroat Trout Restoration Project Final EIR/EIS. Rotenone is a naturally occurring chemical compound derived from the roots of tropical plants in the bean family. Rotenone compounds have been used for centuries by people worldwide to stun and kill fish. Rotenone is used successfully throughout the U.S. as a management tool to eliminate invasive fishes and restore native populations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded that rotenone use for fish control does not present a threat or risk of unreasonable adverse effects to humans or the environment. For more information on rotenone visit the link opens in new windowAmerican Fisheries Society Rotenone Stewardship Program.

The recovery of Paiute cutthroat trout is a multi-agency collaborative effort guided by the link opens in new windowU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Revised Recovery Plan for the Paiute Cutthroat Trout (PDF). The CDFW is committed to continued partnership in the restoration and annual monitoring of Paiute cutthroat trout to ensure this species persists into the future.


Species Status

Paiute cutthroat trout were one of the first animals in the nation to be listed as Endangered in 1967 under the Federal Endangered Species Act. In 1975, they were downgraded to Threatened to facilitate recovery actions.


Prepared by: Stephanie Hogan, Heritage and Wild Trout Program, Fisheries Branch


Last update : 10/19/2017 11:38:36 PM


Fisheries Branch
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Paiute cutthroat trout watercolor by Mark Jessop of Troutfin Studio
©Mark Jessop, all rights reserved

Map of Paiute cutthroat trout historic watersheds - link opens in new window
Click to enlarge