Sand Creek Characterization Study for Oncorhynchus clarkii virginalis (Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout), Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado

Scientific Investigations Report 2019-5061
Prepared in Cooperation with the National Park Service
By: , and 

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Abstract

The Oncorhynchus clarkii virginalis (Rio Grande cutthroat trout, RGCT) has undergone extensive declines in distribution and population. The RGCT is the southernmost distributed subspecies of cutthroat trout. Native to the Rio Grande Basin in Colorado and New Mexico, the subspecies is also found in the headwaters of the Pecos River and Canadian River basins in New Mexico. Currently, RGCT populations represent approximately 12 percent of the historic distribution. There are many factors that have contributed to the decline of the RGCT including small population sizes; hybridization with non-native salmonids; competition with non-native salmonids; angling; and loss of habitat resulting from wildfire, stream drying, disease, increased water temperatures; and poor land management.

The eastern side of Colorado’s Rio Grande Basin is also home to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve and the Sand Creek watershed. This study was designed to (1) characterize current physical and biological conditions of waterbodies within the Sand Creek watershed, from headwaters to lower terminus near the dune field; (2) characterize the spatial extent of existing fisheries within the Sand Creek watershed to inform the scope of potential future reclamation efforts; and (3) evaluate key limiting factors for a future native RGCT reintroduction.

Bathymetric profiles were completed for two lakes within the upper Sand Creek drainage to characterize the physical geometry of each lake and to estimate the total lake volume required for future piscicide treatment and (or) fish removal efforts. Physical and biological conditions evaluated included stream water temperature and intermittency, discharge, and the genetics and existing fish community distribution and composition within the Sand Creek watershed were key components of this study. A baseline established the geographic extent and biological constraints factored into future piscicide treatment planning and native trout reintroduction efforts.

As a result of this work, the Sand Creek watershed can be broken up into several distinct categories: Lakes that are good candidates for reclamation and reintroduction of RGCT, lakes that are poor candidates for reclamation, streams that currently have fish and are good candidates for reclamation and reintroduction, streams that currently lack fish and may be good candidates for introduction of RGCT, and streams that currently lack fish and are not good candidates for introduction of RGCT. This characterization study report is intended to inform State and Federal managers of the likelihood that the Sand Creek watershed can support a sustainable population of RGCT should they be reintroduced.

Suggested Citation

McGee, B.N., Todd, A.S., and Terry, K.A., 2019, Sand Creek characterization study for Oncorhynchus clarkii virginalis (Rio Grande cutthroat trout), Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2019–5061, 38 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20195061.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Purpose and Scope
  • Description of Study Area
  • Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout Background Information
  • Methods
  • Results and Discussion
  • Management Summary
  • Further Work to Consider
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Summary of Cutthroat Trout Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism (AFLP) Analysis Procedure and Results

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Sand Creek characterization study for Oncorhynchus clarkii virginalis (Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout), Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2019-5061
DOI 10.3133/sir20195061
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Geology, Geophysics, and Geochemistry Science Center, Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center
Description 38 p.
Country United States
State Colorado
Other Geospatial Great Sand Dunes National Park
Online Only (Y/N) Y