Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Apache Trout
The state fish of Arizona, the Apache trout, was on the verge of extinction five decades ago. It was one of the first fish placed on the nation's endangered species list.
But now, having made a successful comeback, it may be one of the first to be removed. It's a demotion any species would happily accept.
This golden fish flecked with black spots was once abundant in the high, pure headwaters of the White Mountains in eastern Arizona. But over the years non-native trout were stocked in the same streams. The Apache trout lost its species purity through hybridization and couldn't compete for food and territory.
Land-use practices also damaged crucial habitat. Sediment loads in streams increased, banks eroded, spawning and rearing areas were harmed, and overhanging trees that provided shade vanished. By the mid-1950s these endemic fish survived in a mere thirty miles of streams.
The White Mountain Apache Tribe led the charge to bring back the trout, which holds special meaning to tribal members. The tribe closed reservation waters to fishing and joined a recovery team of state and federal agencies. Together, those organizations have restored eroding stream banks. Non-native fish have been removed. Fishing is closely regulated, and pure Apache trout have been restored in many streams.
Now the recovery plan's goal thirty self-sustaining populations of pure Apache trout with threats eliminated is tantalizingly close. It's a sign that endangered species can recover a sign of good health for Arizona's state fish and for our best, wild places.
- Rose Houk