BLM Colorado

BLM Colorado

Thursday, November 16, 2017

BLM Colorado-Southwest District Surveying the Gunnison Gorge NCA……The Final Blog Chapter

BLM Colorado-Southwest District Surveying the Gunnison Gorge NCA……The Final Blog Chapter
Over the last year we have shared two blogs on rainbow trout in the BLM Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area in Southwestern Colorado.  Over the last several years there has been a large project by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to spawn and stock rainbow trout in the Gorge after whirling disease nearly wiped them out in the 90’s.  This year BLM assisted CPW with both the spawn-take and the population survey within the Gorge.
If you haven’t seen them yet, start with “Black Canyon Rainbow Trout Spawn-take”:
Then see “Bringing Back Rainbow Trout in the Gunnison Gorge NCA”:
In order to determine if the intense stocking over the past years has been successful, population surveys must be performed.  The most efficient way to determine population and size class is performing a two pass mark recapture shocking survey on a section of the river.  With this method, on the first pass fish are shocked, netted, and marked with a hole punch in the top of the caudal fin.  Then the stretch is surveyed again 48 hours later and based on the number of fish along with the number of recaptures, a population model is used to determine fish per mile and also pounds per acre.  This survey stretch is two river miles in length.
With access and length of stretches, raft shockers would not work on this section of river because you would have to drag them up each stretch several times to fully survey the entire width of the river along with getting the boat up several sections of river with rapids.  Instead, the surveys are completed using a jet boat which must be airlifted into the canyon due to no access along the rugged canyon walls.
The helicopter brings in the jet boat
BLM Fisheries Biologist Russ Japuntich reaches out for a brown trout as BLM Fisheries Technician Josh Ryan waits for the next fish to surface.
An example of the caudal fin mark. These holes regrow within 30 days.
Fish are kept in large holding pens waiting to be measured, weighed, and marked before being released.
With increased stocking efforts the past couple of years and flows that have affected age 1 brown trout, there have been increases in rainbow trout in the Gunnison Gorge.  Estimates of 173 rainbows per mile in 2014 jumped to 480 per mile in 2016.  These are the strongest age classes seen since whirling disease in 1995.
Data courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife
There has also been an increase in size class of rainbow trout from 2014 to 2016.  We hope this trend continues with the results of this year’s surveys.
Data courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Fisheries Biologist Russ Japuntich with one of the adult rainbows one can expect to catch in the Gunnison Gorge NCA.
One of the beautiful brown trout found in the Gunnison Gorge NCA.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Third Time is a Charm for the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Veterans Family Fishing Classic

A Third Time is a Charm for the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Veterans Family Fishing Classic

A heavy weather storm stood by on Saturday, October 28nd as the co-hosts American Legion Post 271, Bureau of Land Management, FishingCommunity.Org, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Leonard Bryant Photography, Loxahatchee River Historical Society, U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, Through Our Lens LLC, Tommy Bahama Restaurant, West Palm Beach Fishing Club and many other partners conducted the 3rd Annual Jupiter Inlet Veterans Family Fishing Classic (Classic) event for wounded, injured or ill heroes and their families at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area in Palm Beach County, Florida.

For the 58 veteran and family participants and 48 volunteers, a time for fishing, comradery and mentoring using public lands created a very special community event. 

“It never ceases to amaze me how the local communities respond and make things happen for our nation’s heroes and their families” said Paul Ketrick, founder of FishingCommunity.Org. “We are proud to facilitate and help create this opportunity for wounded heroes and their families to meet and fish with local community supporters using public lands at this historic location.”

The Classic is an application of the Fisheries for Veterans Project. The event is just one of many veterans family fishing activities going on at the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area, designated by Congress and managed by the Bureau of Land Management as part of the National Conservation Lands for unique and nationally significant resources that have important cultural, ecological, and scientific value.

“The Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area is honored to be home to the Veterans Fishing Classic site again in 2017. We are also excited about the other veterans fishing programs we have been working to create for the public” said Peter De Witt, local Program Manager for the Bureau.
In addition to the Classic, other ongoing and new veterans and family fishing classes and public lands projects are lined out for 2017 and 2018. For example, free “Evening Fish and Learn” classes will take place on site November 28th and December 27th this year. Sign up at
For more information on these and other projects, and how to get involved, check out or contact Paul Ketrick of FishingCommunity.Org at For additional information about the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area see or follow the site on Facebook at

The Fisheries for Veterans Project is a national service model to utilize America’s public lands fishing resources to develop engagement and vitality between state and federal agencies, local communities, Veteran Affairs, Department of Defense, the local fishing community, and veterans and their families. All activities are free of charge and open to all veterans, all veteran family members, of any disability, of any service campaign. We invite participation by any person, organization or agency who wants to help make a difference.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

BLM Programs and Partners Cohost Veterans Fishing Gala


Every spring, thousands of American and Hickory shad return to the Potomac River in Washington, DC, and so does the annual Fletcher's Boathouse Veterans Family Shad Fishing Gala. The event, now in its third year, is co-hosted by BLM Eastern States and FishingCommunity.Org. It offers members of our veteran community the opportunity to interact with BLM's programs and to spend time together in a common life passion - fishing together in a fantastic and historic setting. 

This year's event was held on April 21, a day that brought perfect weather conditions and an excellent shad run. Wounded veterans and their family members from the D.C. area were guided by BLM WO and Eastern States Office staff for some exciting shad fishing action. Several programs from the Washington Office participated in the event, including Fisheries and Aquatics, Recruitment and Retention, Planning, Riparian, and Law Enforcement.

Wounded hero and guide team up on another successful catch

The event is a community fishing application of the Fisheries for Veterans Project (, a national service model developed by FishingCommunity.Org and the BLM. It uses America's public lands and fishing resources to bring wounded heroes, their families, and public lands aquatic resources together in order to create programs and events that promote the rehabilitational, recreational, and educational power of local communities and resources. 
Shad Gala Group

In addition to fishing events, the F4V Project also works to increase involvement among veterans and their family members in public aquatic resource stewardship and habitat improvement programs.

All Fisheries for Veterans Project activities are free of charge and open to all veterans and their family members, of any disability or any service campaign.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Rio de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores “The River of Our Lady of Sorrows”


Rio de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores “The River of Our Lady of Sorrows”:  BLM Colorado’s Southwest District Lower Dolores River Survey Trip

The diverting of water in the Montezuma Valley from the Dolores River started in November of 1885, when construction of the 5,400 foot Montezuma Valley Water Supply Company Tunnel through the Dolores Divide began. But, as the area and the demand for water grew, extra canals were built that helped provide water to more people. But, the canals carried too little water and shortages scourged the farmers and residents in the valley. On November 20, 1961, the Dolores Water Conservancy District was formed and in 1968 the project for McPhee Reservoir was approved. However, the project wouldn’t start until 1977 and was not completed until 1984. After two years of closure, the reservoir had filled by 1986. The project cost an estimated $500 million, along with an $11.6 million Dolores tunnel that was dug underground from Big Bend to Cortez. The construction of the dam also created a need for pumping plants, canals, and two recreation areas. The now filled reservoir sits where a bustling logging town once resided, McPhee, along with numerous archaeological sites. The artifacts found at these sites needed a place to be housed. So, the Anasazi Heritage Center was built to house those artifacts and is managed by the BLM’s Tres Rios Field Office.

Celene Hawkins paddles ahead of the chase boat through Slickrock Canyon (Photo: Russ Japuntich, BLM)

The Dolores River is home to three native warmwater fish, the roundtail chub (Gila robusta), flannelmouth sucker (Catostomus latipinnis), and bluehead sucker (Catostomus discobolus). The dam’s completion added additional in-stream flow alterations, a coldwater fishery below the dam, and the successful introduction of other warmwater species; these additions have resulted in the decline of native fish and will prove to be focal points for future management and native fish success. The need to manage the Dolores River below McPhee because of the aforementioned additions and the protection of native fish created a working group called the Lower Dolores Plan Working Group-Legislative. Their main objective is to gather and summarize information that will describe the status and trends of native fish and is divided into two phases.

          Phase 1: Describe the status of the three species in the Colorado River basin, describe the status of the three species in the Dolores River between McPhee Dam and the confluence of the San Miguel River, describe potential reasons for population changes in the Dolores River, and describe preliminary management options and opportunities for improvement of the Dolores River fish community.

          Phase 2: Use the summaries of fish status in the study area from phase 1 reports and then formalize the presentation of opportunities for improvement for the fish community; main topic areas include spill management, base flow and fish pool management, each of which include aspects of thermal regime management, and reduction of effects of non-native fishes.

CPW Biologist Jim White holds a large flannelmouth sucker.
A nice roundtail chub.

CPW Biologist Eric Gardunio displays the easily identifiable mouth of a bluehead sucker, with its very pronounced scraping ridge. (Photos: Jim White, CPW)

The life history of these species have some general similarities, but are relatively unique. Spawning for flannelmouth and bluehead suckers occur in late spring as flows begin to rise from runoff and roundtail chubs occur as the flows begin to decline, early summer. Spawning during runoff is key, because the high flows disturb and move substrate and flush fine sediment from rocks, which ensures clean substrate for spawning. After spawning and embryo development take place, the larvae emerge and begin to drift downstream. Larvae will drift until they come across areas of low to zero velocity, which happen to occur in pools and backwaters. These slow water habitats are important to the fish larvae because chironomid larvae also utilize these areas and are an important food source. This habitat is also advantageous because water temps are fairly warm, which increases growth rates in the fish. As the fish advance into their juvenile life stages, their habitat dependency and diets becomes more specialized. Bluehead suckers occupy swift riffle-run habitat, flannelmouth suckers occupy run and pool habitat, and chubs occupy pool and backwater habitat.

BLM Fish Biologist Russ Japuntich, keeping a lofty eye in front of the boat for surfacing fish with his net in hand, instead of taking in the scenery. (Photo: Jim White, CPW)

The three species were once abundant throughout the Colorado River Basin and present in cool and warm water reaches of small to large streams. They now occupy 50% or less of their range in the entire Colorado River Basin and only 45 – 55% of their range in the upper Colorado River Basin. The decline in the species is likely due to flow modifications and the establishment of non-native species. Non-native species in the system pose a problem through competition and predation. The greatest non-native fish threats are trout in the cold water reaches below the dam and smallmouth bass in the lower and warmer reaches. The white sucker is another potential threat to the native fish, due to its ability to hybridize with bluehead and flannelmouth suckers; resulting in loss of genetic integrity of native catostomids. White suckers are present above the dam and in other streams throughout the upper Colorado River Basin, however none have been documented in the Dolores downstream of the dam. White suckers and their hybrids are difficult to manage and the establishment of them in the system should be avoided. Although, other non-natives are present in low abundance and are not currently a threat; but may become one under different environmental conditions.

Leech Creek at the confluence with the Dolores River (Photo: Celene Hawkins, Nature Conservancy)

Altered in-stream flow and temperature regimes can also play a factor in the decline and success of not only native fish, but also non-natives. Dramatic alterations in flow and temperature can affect the maturation of gonads in fish and recruitment success. Early warming periods can cause the maturation of gonads to occur earlier, then if spawning and emergence takes place prior to high flows; earlier life stages of the fish are likely to experience high mortality. These high flows of cooler water before or after hatching can also limit hatching success of the fish and growth rates. However, utilizing the drastic changes in flow and temperature could also help in reducing non-native fish spawning and recruitment success.

The focal point of the survey consists of the stretch through Slickrock Canyon, which encompasses 32 miles of the Dolores River from Big Gypsum Valley Bridge to Bedrock (figure 1). The canyon is full of beautiful scenery consisting of towering canyon walls and overhangs that have been carved out overtime by fluvial processes. The last time this stretch was surveyed via raft was in 2007. Each of the three species were captured during the survey, however they were in low abundance. Very few non-natives were present, many of which were channel catfish and common carp; both of which do not pose as a huge threat to native fish. It was also noted that there was a large number of young-of-year native fish near the mouth of Coyote Wash, hinting at the importance of these tributaries as areas of recruitment.

CPW Native Fish Biologist Paul Jones and BLM Fisheries Technician Josh Ryan look to net some fish under an overhang. (Photo: Jim White, CPW)

Fast-forward ten years to Sunday, May 14, 2017 as we arrive at the put in at Big Gypsum. The survey was a cooperative effort with the Bureau of Land Management, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the Nature Conservancy. We spent the first afternoon unloading and preparing the rafts for an early start the next day, organizing, double checking equipment, and answering questions posed by groups of rafters floating by or launching. The survey trip was supposed to have lasted four days (not counting Sunday), but due to incoming weather we worked quickly and completed the 32 mile stretch in 3 days. Sampling of the river was completed using two electrofishing rafts, outfitted with two booms on the front of the raft. Each raft picked a side of the river and surveyed that side for the entire trip. Behind the electrofishing rafts there was a chase boat, a gear boat, and a duckie raft that stayed behind and surveyed the major tributaries to the Dolores at their confluences. All fish that were captured during the survey were measured and weighed; while native fish were also scanned for PIT tags, and if one was not present, the fish was tagged and the tag number recorded.

During the course of the survey, over ~400 native fish (all three species identified) were captured and tagged; a few of which were recaptures that had been tagged in previous years by other biologists. Judging by the fish that were captured, species compositions and size distributions had not changed since 2007. Other species captured was speckled dace (Rhinichthys osculus, native) black bullhead (Ameiurus melas, non-native), green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus, non-native), fathead minnow (Pimphales promelas, non-native), brown trout (Salmo trutta, non-native), and white sucker (Catostomus commersonii, non-native); as of right now this is the first documented white sucker in the Dolores. Similar to the previous survey in 2007, a lot of juvenile fish were documented. Except they were scattered throughout the whole reach, which was promising even though it seemed there was a lack of backwater habitat to support larval recruitment.

White sucker (Catostomus commersonii), possibly the first one documented in the Slickrock Canyon. (Photo: Paul Jones, CPW)

Scanning a flannelmouth sucker for a PIT tag. (Photo: Paul Jones, CPW)

Overall, the trip served a great purpose, it allowed the fish biologists an opportunity to see what is going on with native and non-native fish assemblages throughout the canyon. Sampling through the canyon was tough due flows hovering around 800 cfs and the water being fairly turbid. Catch rates were low, so sampling data will be used to determine species composition and CPUE (catch per unit effort). The trip also allowed those with hydrology and other backgrounds a chance to see how these large flushes have affected river morphology, sediment deposition, and riparian zones. As mentioned early in the blog, a less than ideal forecast caused us to speed things up the last day and rightfully so. We were greeted the first few days on the river by warm, clear, and sunny skies. But, the last day the Dolores gave us a pleasant gift with a group of desert bighorn ewes and lambs across river from us, whom we had watched the evening before as they moved along the ridgeline of the mesa. But, the tone quickly changed and the river made it known we had overstayed, with a farewell of cold temps, wind, rain, and finally a spring snow storm as we headed home.

Desert bighorn sheep from across river the final morning. (Photo: Celene Hawkins, Nature Conservancy)

A less than ideal way to end a raft trip in the middle of May, but that is spring in the Rockies for you. (Photos: Jim White, CPW)

PW Native Fish Biologist, Paul Jones, paddling through the home stretch. (Photo: Jim White, CPW)

Views from the first night at camp on the river. (Photo: Josh Ryan, BLM)

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Black Canyon Rainbow Trout Spawn-Take

Black Canyon Rainbow Trout Spawn-Take

Longer days, warmer temperatures, and the start of snow melt in the high country signifies the start of spring in the Colorado Rockies and the rest of the Western United States. It is also an important time for our recreational fisheries as rainbow trout begin to spawn. Some rainbow trout fisheries in the state are wild and free where the populations are self-sustained through successful reproduction and recruitment. However, there are some populations that require help in order revitalize once abundant populations that have been effected by disease. On several warm mid-April days, BLM Colorado’s Southwest District fisheries crew assisted Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) with collecting rainbow trout in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park at East Portal, located just below Crystal dam to spawn and collect fertilized eggs. 

CPW aquatic biologist Eric Gardunio motors back to the boat ramp after a successful day on the water.

Why is the BLM assisting Colorado Parks and Wildlife with work inside a National Park you might ask? Well to continue the process of a previous blog from the fall of 2016: ( The eggs that are collected at this location will be reared at a hatchery and once they have grown to 2” long fry, they will then be stocked in the BLM Gunnison Gorge NCA located downstream of the park.

Entrance to the Park

In the early 90’s, whirling disease hit the Gunnison River and virtually eliminated rainbow trout recruitment from 1994 to 2007; adversely affecting the rainbow trout population. Before whirling disease, the river was home to a robust wild rainbow and brown trout fishery. Rainbow trout during those years had densities of over 5,000 fish per mile and biomass greater than 200 lbs/acre. Since the disease struck, rainbow trout now roughly account for 10% of the biomass. Along with the disease, the brown trout in the river thrived as the rainbow populations declined. Brown trout numbers are still high, which has made the recovery a little difficult even with successful reproduction. Supplemental stocking of whirling disease resistant strains of rainbow trout, which is a cross between the Hofer strain and Colorado River rainbows; has helped the population slightly recover through reproduction and recruitment.

BLM Fisheries Technician Josh Ryan, holds a large male rainbow that was netted while electrofishing.

In order to collect eggs and milt from individuals, electrofishing via boat is used to capture fish. Several short sample reaches with multiple passes are completed to cover the entire width and length of the river at East Portal. Individuals identified as “reproductively ripe” are separated and placed in a holding pen to be spawned. Spawning occurs on Tuesdays and Fridays, with collection occurring Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday of every week during the spawn period. The fertilized eggs that are collected are transported to the CPW Pitkin Fish Hatchery in Pitkin, CO. 

Eric Gardunio showing the eggs from a female rainbow trout that was collected and will be sent to the holding pen.

Eric Gardunio spawns a female rainbow trout into a mixing bowl to be fertilized.

Over ripened eggs from a female, notice the oblong and inconsistent shape. In this instance these over ripened due to flow fluctuations out of Crystal dam that forced the female to delay spawning.

It is an ongoing process to restore the rainbow populations to what the river once held. High water years during spring runoff have helped keep brown trout numbers down in recent years. Hopefully later this year we will be back on the river in the Gunnison Gorge NCA (much like last fall) stocking fry back into the system. 

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area are MUST DO’S if you are ever spending some time in Southwest Colorado. There are many recreational opportunities to satisfy one’s need for adventure, along with amazing scenery created by fluvial and geological processes. If the opportunity rises during a long weekend, make the trip to the area and see it for yourself.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

CPW technician shows off a gorgeous colored up male rainbow trout that is ready to spawn.

CPW technician holding another fish collected and ready to spawn.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

BLM Employs Local High School Student, Hutton Fisheries Scholarship Recipient

BLM Employs Local High School Student, Hutton Fisheries Scholarship Recipient

Story by Mark Jacobsen, Public Affairs Specialist, Eastern Montana/Dakotas District. Photos by Christina Stuart, BLM Fish Biologist, Miles City Field Office.

Miles City resident and Custer County District High School senior Ethan Anderson got some hands-on experience as a fisheries technician with the BLM Miles City Field Office (MCFO) in Montana last summer. Anderson was awarded a $4,000 scholarship from the Hutton Junior Fisheries Biology Program, which seeks to "diversify the fisheries profession by stimulating career interest among young people from underrepresented groups," according to the organization.

Hutton Scholar Ethan Anderson displays a green sunfish caught during summertime sampling work on the north fork of Whitetail Creek in Carter County, July 19, 2016.
Hutton Scholar Ethan Anderson displays a green sunfish caught during summertime sampling work on the north fork of Whitetail Creek in Carter County, July 19, 2016.

Anderson competed for the scholarship against a pool of students ranked nationally, of whom around 25 were lucky to receive the chance to work with a local agency fish biologist. A minimum of eight weeks at 40 hours per week is the standard arrangement. The situation works well for both sides, as the lucky student is awarded a scholarship and the agency receives volunteer help for the summer. The American Fisheries Society provides most everything for the student, including liability coverage.

A vetted fisheries biologist generally serves as a program mentor and an application must be made by the agency professional on the receiving end, in this case, BLM Fish Biologist Christina Stuart. Once the mentor application is approved, the process moves forward and the Hutton Scholar is placed.  This is the second year that Stuart was able to secure a Hutton Scholar for her summer field season.

"All parties benefit from the Hutton Program," said Stuart. "The student receives a scholarship, a mentor, and beneficial field experience and the agency takes on a volunteer, which is invaluable in completing the summer workload."

Ethan Anderson (top) and fisheries technicians David Ritter (far left), and Kelsey Smith (bottom) pull in a seine net during a Carter County prairie stream sampling survey conducted in July 2016.
Ethan Anderson (top) and fisheries technicians David Ritter (far left), and Kelsey Smith (bottom) pull in a seine net during a Carter County prairie stream sampling survey conducted in July 2016.

The summer was a busy one for Stuart and Anderson, as well as the other field technicians working the aquatic systems in the MCFO.  The crew kept busy all summer with plenty of prairie stream sampling, habitat monitoring and data collection on BLM-administered lands in eastern Montana.

The Robert F. Hutton Endowment Fund was created in 2000 to receive contributions intended to support the scholarship program.  The fund's namesake, the late Dr. Robert F. Hutton, served as the American Fisheries Society's first Executive Director from 1965 to 1972 and the society President from 1976 to 1977. 

BLM-CO Biologist Recognized for Effort to Benefit Native Fish Restoration

BLM-CO Biologist Recognized for Effort to Benefit Native Fish Restoration

Story by David Boyd, Public Affairs Specialist. Photos by BLM.

BLM Colorado Northwest District Fisheries Biologist Tom Fresques was recently recognized by his professional peers across the region for his work to streamline the approvals of native fish restoration projects on streams passing through BLM-administered lands.

The Colorado/Wyoming Chapter of the American Fisheries Society awarded Tom the "Max Rollefson Award of Merit" at their annual meeting in Grand Junction on February 23, 2017. He was recognized for his lead effort in completing a programmatic environmental assessment (PEA) addressing fish reclamation projects statewide.

BLM Colorado Fisheries and Riparian Program Lead presents Tom Fresques with the Max Rollefson Award of Merit.
BLM Colorado Fisheries and Riparian Program Lead presents Tom Fresques with the Max Rollefson Award of Merit.

BLM Colorado has been working closely with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) for years to restore native fish populations. Until this PEA was completed, field offices needed to complete a separate EA for each specific project that CPW was considering. Now, field offices in Colorado can tier to this PEA, greatly streamlining the approval process, which should lead to more projects being completed.

"It was humbling to be recognized by such a great group of biologists," Tom said. "This was a very cooperative team effort that involved my peers in the other districts, the NEPA coordinators from each district, and the district managers. This effort should help ensure more native fish populations can be restored."

"Tom's efforts have resulted in a streamlined protocol that is being implemented in the fisheries program across the Bureau," said Jay Thompson, BLM Colorado Fisheries and Riparian Program Lead.

Tom Fresques measures the length of a native cutthroat trout before returning the fish safely to the stream.
Tom Fresques measures the length of a native cutthroat trout before returning the fish safely to the stream.

In June 2016, Tom's PEA was distributed nationally by the Washington Office fisheries program lead.  To simplify the process and encourage other states to pursue a similar approach, Tom prepared a briefing paper that includes recommendations on how to produce a similar PEA in other states. 

The PEA is available on e-planning at