Wednesday, June 27, 2007

NM News - Valle Vidal Trout Restoration Project

The Valle Vidal at the confluence of Comanche Creek and the Rio Costilla.

There’s a lot of activity scheduled on the Valle Vidal this summer including new fishing regulations, stream closures and a planned celebration of the pristine mountain areas’ new protected status.

The Valle Vidal opens for fishing on July 1st and this year anglers will be allowed to catch and keep two cutthroat trout a day from the upper reaches of Comanche Creek and all of its tributaries, said Eric Frey, Northeast Area Fisheries Manager for the state Department of Game and Fish.

The streams in this area are in the final phases of being cleared of all fish in preparation of restocking with pure, native, Rio Grande cutthroat trout, Frey said.

The special bag limit on Comanche Creek and its tributaries is in effect upstream of the confluence of the Little Costilla Creek and ends July 22nd, Frey said.

There will be no bag limit at all on these waters from August 4th to Aug. 7th to allow anglers to harvest any fish remaining in these streams, Frey said.

Frey stressed that catch and release regulations including the use of single, barbless flies and lures remains in effect on the upper Rio Costilla and all other creeks and streams within the Valle Vidal.

An exception to that rule is at Shuree ponds where the bag limit is set at two fish per day over 15-inches in length, Frey said. Shuree ponds were recently stocked with brood-stock sized fish, he added.

Recent restoration work on Comanche Creek watershed has included the removal of about 1,000 cutthroat trout, many of which were transplanted into the nearby Rio Costilla, Frey said.

“So there should be some good fishing up there this opening day,” he said.
Visitors to the Valle Vidal will find some other changes this year as cutthroat trout restoration work continues.

Comanche creek is slated for closure to anglers and all others starting August 8th through August 26th to accommodate continued work on the stream including the application of a chemical treatment to eliminate any remaining fish, said Donna Storch, fish biologist with the Carson National Forest.

Comanche Creek’s closure commences from it’s confluence with the Rio Costilla at Comanche Point upstream to the Clayton Corrals area, about five miles.

Vehicle traffic will be allowed on the main route, Forest Road 1950, that runs parallel to Comanche Creek and up to high country and Shuree Ponds but stopping and exiting of vehicles is prohibited, Storch said.

Motorists will also find a new in stream barrier installed on Forest Road 1950 where it passes under the roadway near the Little Costilla Corrals to prohibit the migration of fish into the upper reaches of Comanche Creek.

The barrier is part of the overall cutthroat restoration project to remove non-native fish from waters throughout the region and reintroduce the native Rio Grande cutthroat trout to its native habitat.

Restoration work will greatly reduce threats to the Rio Grande cutthroat trout’s survival and eliminate the need for protection under the endangered species act. Such a listing usually results in severe restrictions on forest use and sport fishing.

The success of those reintroduction efforts has been greatly enhanced by habitat work done on Comanche Creek and the surrounding countryside, said George Long, Wildlife Biologist for the Carson National Forest.

Years of overgrazing, placer mining, road building, timber harvesting and past fish stocking practices have all contributed to the degradation of Comanche creek and its tributaries thus threatening the Rio Grande cutthroat’s existence, Long said.

But much work has been done to close off and in some cases, eliminate roads that cause excessive runoff and erosion that fouls waters.

Stream banks have been rebuilt and restored with native vegetation to create a healthier environment for fish to thrive. And non-native fish such as rainbow trout and white suckers have been eliminated to allow the Rio Grande cutthroats a clean start in their restored home waters, Long said.

Much of that work has involved volunteer groups such as the Truchas Chapter of Trout Unlimited, New Mexico Trout, the Quivera Coalition and the Albuquerque Chapter of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Long said.

“We couldn’t have done it without them,” he said.

To celebrate the many efforts made by these groups and others to protect the Valle Vidal a Youth and Appreciation Day has been scheduled for July 21st at Shuree Ponds, said, Jeremy Vesbach, Executive Director of New Mexico Wildlife Federation.

“There’s a lot of celebrate and everybody’s invited,” he said.

The Valle Vidal waters now have state oversight and protection from water pollution and the forest lands have been granted federal legal protection from proposed gas and oil drilling, Vesbach said.

New Mexico’s congressional delegation and a great deal of public support led to passage of Rep.Tom Udall D-NM bill, the Valle Vidal Protection Act, this past winter.
Many organizations will be involved in the celebration including Amigos Bravos, Sierra Club, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Trout Unlimited and the state Dept. of Game and Fish. Activities such as a stream restoration workshop, a fly-casting clinic, a birding hike and other festivities are scheduled and many organizations will have informational booths in place.

“Everybody’s invited,” Vesbach said.

And privately owned Costilla Park is also slated to open the same weekend as its neighbor, the Valle Vidal, said Billie Norsworthy of the Rio Costilla Cooperative Livestock Association’s office in Costilla.

The park offers camping at $20 a night and fishing along the lower stretch of the Rio Costilla where regular fishing regulations and bag limits apply.

Latir lakes and area streams in the high country hold plenty of cutthroat trout and will open for fishing and camping on June 29th. A four-wheel drive vehicle is required to climb to Latir Lakes and fishing is $7 a day and camping $20 a night. A state issued license is also required.

“If you’re going to come camping this is the time to do it,” Norsworthy said. “Conditions are great.”

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The San Juan River - Habitat Improvement Project

Tim McCarty, 56, of Albuquerque shows off a trout caught in the renovated area below Simon Canyon during a recent fishing trip.

By KARL F. MOFFATT | For The Santa Fe New Mexican/Outdoors
June 7, 2007

Anglers looking for some good fishing and a little breathing room on New Mexico’s popular San Juan River need only look downstream to a stretch of recently improved trout habitat.

“Looks like money well spent,” said Tim McCarthy, 56, of Albuquerque, as he released a good-sized rainbow trout caught in the project area during a recent fishing trip. “It’s nice and fishy down here.”

That’s the response state and federal officials were hoping for when they finished the second stage of the three-phase project designed to entice fish and anglers to the lower reaches of the state’s premier trout stream.

Over the last two winters about 500 tons of strategically placed boulders have been installed in a three-quarter-of-a-mile stretch of previously barren and featureless water below Simon Canyon and just above the area known as The Gravel Pit.

The rock work will help directs water to the center of the river where it will create a deeper channel which will carry off sediment and provide trout with good cover. Boulders placed in the channel itself will churn up the water to add oxygen and provide protective areas where fish can hold, said Marc Wethington, state Game and Fish biologist for the San Juan River.

And the work is apparently beginning to pay off.

“We had hoped to see some results this fishing season,” Wethington said. “It should get even better with time.”

Wethington said too many anglers crowd into the Texas Hole area below Navajo Dam and neglect to use the rest of the estimated 4.25 miles of public access to the river.

“We wanted to relieve some of that congestion, spread out the anglers and make fishing here more enjoyable for everyone,” Wethington said.

A plan was hatched — spurred, in part, after offers from private energy firms operating in the area to contribute to such projects, Wethington said.

“We like to fish down there, too,” said Steve Zink, a production supervisor for Devon Energy which employs 32 people and operates about 500 oil and gas wells in the Navajo Dam area. “This is just Devon’s part in giving something back to the community, and the fish, too.”

Public agencies such as Game and Fish, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Army Corp of Engineers and Navajo Lake State Park worked together on the project along with the San Juan Fly Fishing Federation and several energy firms including Devon Energy, Williams and ConocoPhillips. Adobe Construction of Bloomfield provided the heavy lifting for the job.

Wethington said his peer at the BLM, wildlife biologist John Hansen, was instrumental in the project, particularly in securing the use of federal Sikes Act funds to get the project off the ground.

Those who hunt, fish or trap on public lands pay an additional $5 for a Sikes Act “habitat stamp” when they purchase a license.

Those funds are typically used on projects such as providing water for wildlife through the installation of wells, rain- catchment systems and holding tanks or earthen ponds. Sikes funds might also be used for range management or wildlife reintroduction programs, Hansen said.

“But this is one of those cases where you can actually see that Sikes Act money put to work,” Hansen said. “It’s been one of the best projects I’ve worked on in my career considering how well everyone came together, the results and the public response.”

Fishing guides who ply the San Juan’s waters welcomed the project that aimed to improve conditions on the last stretch of water that many drift boats pass through before they reach the Gravel Pit takeout.

“This gives us a place to fish that we didn’t have before,” said Greg Faught of the Float and Fish fly shop and guide service of Navajo Dam. “During high water, it’ll do wonders to move sand and silt out of there. I give it a big thumbs-up.”

During high water season on the San Juan River, water flows from the dam are increased from 500 to 5,000 cubic-feet-per-second, or cfs, for several weeks to mimic spring runoff and deliver water downstream.

The higher flows serve to clear the riverbed of silt and sand as well as other debris that has built up during the year and can smother insect production, the primary food source for trout.

The high-water season ended the last week of May, and water has since scoured deep holes behind the boulders installed in the project area which will not give trout a new place to live.

It also moved out plenty of built-up sand and sediment which should improve the insect population in that area, Faught said.

“I think this is going to be great wading and dry-fly water,” Faught said.

Anglers wanting to test these waters should consider fishing the area in the mornings and early afternoons before the drift boats start coming through, Faught said.

The project represented several major engineering obstacles but proceeded smoothly nonetheless, Wethington said.

Boulders had to be trucked in about 50 miles from a quarry near Ignacio, Colo., with each weighing an estimated 11/2 to 2 tons and “about as big and round as the hood of a pickup,” Wethington said.

Heavy equipment couldn’t be driven along the riverbanks due to environmental restrictions, so workers had the water flow lowered to 250 cfs and brought in a high-clearance, all-wheel-drive dump truck to haul the boulders upstream through the river itself. A tractor, with a movable arm fitted with a pincher claw, worked out of the riverbed, picking up and positioning the boulders.

The project area represents the last mile of the San Juan’s quality waters which are home to an estimated 75,000 trout.

The first quarter-mile of the river is strictly catch and release, and the remaining four miles have a bag limit of one trout over 20 inches with the angler required to stop fishing once they have taken a fish that day. Single, barbless lures are required on the quality waters.

Below the quality waters, anglers can use bait, and the normal bag limit is in effect

on public access to another 3.5 miles of river.

The third and final phase of the project will target the Cottonwood Campground area in the bait water section of the river.

The design is expected to be functional as well as aesthetically pleasing as the state park campground serves as a highly visible centerpiece for the entire Navajo Lake State Park which encompasses the quality waters of the San Juan River.

The third phase will make use of downed cottonwood trees to provide structure as well as more boulders and excavations which will create suitable habitat for holding fish as well as reduce silt and sediment buildup.

Fish-holding areas created by the structure work will be particularly useful in this part of the river as it is regularly stocked with up to 60,000, 9- to 12-inch trout for anglers to catch and eat.

The fish habitat project has cost about $85,000 to date. According to Wethington, anglers spend about 250,000 hours a year fishing on San Juan River below Navajo Dam and contribute an estimated $20 million to $30 million to the state’s economy every year.

Also see this article at the Santa Fe New Mexican's web site)

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