Scouts, anglers join forces to improve conditions for native trout at Christopher Creek

PAYSON — Intermittent drops of water trickle out of a suspended pipe bridging two banks of Christopher Creek. The water rings from the leak are the only disturbance to the sedimented surface. Beneath it, few native fish still survive.

Drier seasons, hotter temperatures, steady erosion and a lack of maintenance has led to warmer waters and an increase in soil in the waterbody. This had made portions of the creek unsustainable to some native wildlife.

Now, organizations like the Boy Scouts of America and Trout Unlimited are investing in the creek’s restoration. Their work will address affected areas by improving cold-water flow, supporting soil banks and reintroducing native fish. By cooling temperatures and keeping soil from eroding into the water, a fishery in Christopher Creek has a better chance of survival.

“To keep our wildlife flourishing, our reconstructed habitats to have features that allow for it to both survive with really small flows and withstand really large flows,” said Allen Haden, an aquatic ecologist for Natural Channel Design Engineering. “That’s the challenge of the Southwest.”

Arizona’s ecology itself is a unique challenge to the engineers and ecologists studying the science behind the restoration. If changes to Christopher Creek are to be successful in the long term, the waterway must be able to support the survival of native fish through dry summers and post-wildfire flooding.

Service for the scouts

Greg Harmon, director of support services for the scouts’ Grand Canyon Council, sees the restoration project as the perfect opportunity to introduce youth to conservation.

“Kids now live surrounded by concrete. We want them to reconnect to the outdoors by going outdoors and learning to love it. If you don’t love something, you won’t want to learn how to protect it,” Harmon said. “We want them to know part of being a good citizen is giving back to others and we want them to do that through the environment.”

The restoration focuses on parts of the creek near the Roosevelt Council Scout Ranch, about 20 miles northeast of Payson. A key element to the project is the involvement of the scouts in the restoration work.

“Arizona struggles in a lot of ways with water and climate change. There are a lot of things going on so we want to expose kids to those challenges,” Harmon said. “One of the best ways to do that is through service projects because they get to go out there and exert some manual labor. They sweat and at the end of it they get to say: ‘I did this.’”

Service for the scouts will most likely begin next year, after the initial assessment of Christopher Creek is completed this November.

Over the last few months a similar project has been taking place at Camp Geronimo, another scout camp around 40 miles northwest of the R-C Scout Ranch. Scouts have logged over 9,000 hours of work in the implementation of the master erosion plan at the camp.

“If we don’t expose kids to nature and tell them why it’s significant and how they can connect to it, then they won’t see any value in it,” Harmon said. “Then as future adults, they won’t vote to protect it and they don’t do what is necessary to make sure it’s there for their children.”

Angling and reintroduction

Earlier this month, the Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited received a $2,500 grant through the national organization’s Embrace A Stream program. This money is being put toward the Christopher Creek restoration at the ranch.

One of the key elements will be the reintroduction of native fish, such as roundtail chub, longfin dace and Gila trout.

Gila trout are one of only two native trout species in Arizona; the other is the Apache trout, the state fish. These species are native only to southeastern and central Arizona, as well as southwestern New Mexico.

“They’re a big part of our legacy and heritage here in Arizona. They’re one of the coolest parts of the diversity of fish species that we have in the Southwest,” said Zach Beard, the native trout and chub coordinator for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “Reintroduction of Gila trout and all those native species is great because having more biological diversity is a really great thing for the environment.”

Habitat degradation, overharvesting, introduction of nonnative fish and both water loss and overuse, pushed native trout close to extinction, Beard said. In 2017, the department conducted a fish survey at Christopher Creek and found that longfin dace were the only native fish in the stream.

Through specific reintroductions and stricter regulations, native trout populations have slowly recovered.

There are currently seven creeks in Arizona — Chase, Coleman, Dude, Frye, Grapevine, Marijilda and Raspberry — that are considered recovery streams for Gila trout, meaning the harvesting of these fish is prohibited.

“Those fish populations are more focused on trying to get Gila trout to a point where they can be delisted from the Endangered Species Act,” Beard said. “But there are other places, recreational streams, to fish for native trout.”

Once Gila trout is reintroduced to Christopher Creek it will be added to the list of recreational water bodies where anglers can fish for the trout.

The list of current recreational water bodies includes the East Verde River, Frye Mesa Reservoir, Goldwater Lake, Lynx Lake, Oak Creek, Watson Lake and West Fork Oak Creek.

“What better thing for a young person to be able to come down to a nature center and one, fish for roundtail chub, two, be able to see dace dancing in the water, and three, be able to find Chiricahua leopard frogs and also fish for Gila trout in adjoining steams,” said Alan Davis, the Christopher Creek project chair and the president of the Zane Grey Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

Alongside improving cold-water flow and reintroducing native fish, Davis and Harmon also plan to repair the youth fishing pond at the R-C Scout Ranch.

“Scouts, especially cub scouts, are usually new to fishing and they don’t have a lot of skill yet, so by stocking a small pond we can increase their chances of catching,” Harmon said. “To watch their faces light up the first time they get something on the line or the first time they touch the sliminess of a fish is a really neat organic experience. The pond allows us to do that.”

Following the restoration of both the pond and creek, Harmon hopes to continue the relationship between the scouts and Trout Unlimited. Scouts usually partner with other groups to teach skill sets for specific merit badges, like fishing.

“As an organization, we can’t be the experts in everything. We need to look to outside groups who are experts and we need to bring in that expertise. By partnering with these groups, we are getting a whole new source of adults to expose our youth to,” Harmon said.

“One of the great things about doing this, especially with Trout Unlimited, is that we’re connecting youth with fantastic role models,” Harmon said. “Alan (Davis) is a great example. He is a professional guy and the lovable grandfather every kid wants in their lives.”

WHAT CAN BE DONE? As climate change fuels heat, fires, drought, Republic panel examines threats, solutions

Restoring waterways

Data collection and surveying is the first step to the Christopher Creek restoration. This work won’t be done by scouts, but by Natural Channel Design Engineering.

“We will be looking at the habitat there and how we can make it better. We haven’t done the assessment yet, but one of the things we do look for is what the potential for the site is going to be,” Haden said.

There is a high demand for fishing and camping in the Christopher Creek area, according to Haden. The amount of human activity is being compounded by the effects of climate change, which Haden says inevitably affects the environment.

“All of those things have an impact. They are all resources we are trying to take out,” Haden said. “We are in this drought period, so we have less water and as things warm up, so does the water. This leads to more erosion, putting more sediment into the stream. All of these different impacts coming together.”

Haden hopes to have the initial assessment of the creek completed by November. The process is complicated and made more difficult because of the unique environmental challenges of Arizona’s climate.

The restorations to Christopher Creek must allow for the wildlife to survive both the lack of water during the summers and the intense flooding that commonly follows wildfire season.

“This is really unique to the Southwest and it’s challenging to restore a waterbody that needs to withstand both really small flows and really large flows,” Haden said.

Over the years Haden has worked for Natural Channel Design, he has seen the type of work the firm does adapt to climate change.

“It used to be that we were mostly asked to look at stream stability (and) while that’s still a portion of what we do, in the last couple years a lot of projects have been focusing on how we make a pond or a creek work with less water and also how do we improve the temperature of a stream if it’s getting warmer,” Haden said.

“All those issues have come to the forefront,” he said, “and I don’t think the demand for the kind of work we are now doing is going to drop off.”

Click HERE for the full article by Anton L. Delgado at The Arizona Republic/AZCentral.

Army Corps says no to massive gold mine proposed near Bristol Bay in Alaska

The Trump administration denied a key permit on Wednesday for a massive gold and copper mine in Alaska striking a devastating blow to a project opposed by an unusual coalition that includes the president’s son as well as conservationists and Alaska Natives.

In a statement, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Alaska Commander Col. Damon Delarosa said the agency would block Pebble Mine because it determined that the plan the Pebble Limited Partnership submitted to deal with the project’s waste “does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines and concluded that the proposed project is contrary to the public interest.”

While the Trump administration has pressed ahead to weaken environmental protections and expand energy development before the president’s term ends in January, the upcoming mine decision represents a major win for environmentalists, fishing enthusiasts and tribal rights.

Trump officials had allowed the Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, to apply for a permit even though the Obama administration had concluded in 2014 the firm could not seek federal approval because it could have “significant” and potentially “catastrophic” impacts on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery in nearby Bristol Bay. As recently as July, the Corps concluded that the mine would have “no measurable effect” on area fish populations.

But a slew of Alaskan and federal agencies warned that the project would inflict permanent damage on the region, destroying more than 2,800 acres of wetlands, 130 miles of streams and more than 130 acres of open water within Alaska’s Koktuli River Watershed. The proposed site lies at the river’s headwaters.

And an unlikely coalition of opponents formed when Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Vice President Pence’s former chief of staff, Nick Ayers – who all have enjoyed fishing or hunting around Bristol Bay – joined with traditional environmental groups and the region’s tribes in opposition to the project.

Opponents received a major boost in September when the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released recordings of secretly-taped Zoom calls in which the project’s top executives boasted of their influence inside the White House and to Alaska lawmakers to win a federal permit. Alaska’s two GOP senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, issued statements saying they opposed the plan and within days Pebble’s CEO, Tom Collier, resigned.

Pebble issued a plan to the Corps this fall outlining how it would compensate for any damage inflicted by the project, which would span more than 13 miles and require the construction of a 270-megawatt power plant, natural gas pipeline, 82-mile double-lane road, elaborate storage facilities and the dredging of a port at Iliamna Bay.

While the company applied for just a 20 -year permit, Northern Dynasty Minerals CEO Ronald Thiessen said in secretly-recorded conversations that he expected the operation could extract valuable minerals for decades longer than that.

Federal officials concluded that the plan the company outlined for curbing the operation’s environmental impact was not sufficient, the two officials briefed on the decision said.

President-elect Joe Biden has already said he would not allow the mine to be built.

“It is no place for a mine,” Biden said in a statement in August. “The Obama-Biden Administration reached that conclusion when we ran a rigorous, science-based process in 2014, and it is still true today.”

Trout Unlimited President Chris Wood, whose anglers’ group had campaigned against the project, said that a decision to deny it a permit would be “a victory for common sense. Bristol Bay is the wrong place for industrial-scale mining, and we look forward to working with the state and other partners to protect Bristol Bay and its world-class fisheries permanently.”

Click HERE for the full article by Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

The plight of the Gila trout

Deep in the New Mexico desert, amongst Anasazi ruins and rough, wild country lurks the rarest of the rare.

Huddled as close to the fallen tree as we could get, Kirk and I looked at each other, our eyes wide with surprise and a touch of fear. The bullet had missed us by a wide margin, but the fact that we could hear it as it zinged overhead after the ricochet was unnerving.

“Wait for him to reload,” Kirk said. “Then we’ll get over that little rise and out of range.”

A few more shots rang through the trees along the creek bottom, and we could hear the lead crashing through the cottonwoods just a few dozen yards away. With each shot, we sank lower to the ground, making ourselves as small as we possibly could.

Finally, the shots ceased, and we popped up from the shelter and sprinted about forty yards over a small rise and out of the spray of handgun shots coming from the unknowing shooter. We hollered and yelled as we ran, but we suspected the target shooter was wearing earplugs as he or she clipped the trees from a nearby stretch of private land along the remote little creek, deep in the heart of southern New Mexico’s Gila country.

We’d spent a couple of hours driving a deeply rutted gravel road into the backcountry during the July monsoon season, and then hiked a few miles up a tiny creek that held one of the last stronghold populations of native Gila trout — one of only two trout subspecies native to the far southwest. The other native — the Apache trout — swims a bit farther to the west in Arizona. Both are rare, but efforts to recover them at that time were moving along nicely. We didn’t know that, years later, this little creek would fall victim to a hotter-than-hell wildfire, and the efforts to restore Gilas to this watershed would have to start all over from scratch.

And it’s not the first time a restored Gila population had to be brought back from the brink. Climate-induced wildfires are more and more common along the Mogollan Rim, and restored Gila trout streams have been in the crosshairs of wildfires a number of times. Thankfully, hearty Trout Unlimited volunteers have helped state fish and game managers salvage as many of the priceless fish as possible, rearing them in hatcheries until their wild habitat bounces back from its touch with inferno. Efforts to restore Gila and Apache trout continue today, even the face of ever-intensifying fires and a warming climate that’s noticeably different than it was even just a couple of decades ago.

But ignorance, at the time of our visit, was bliss. The bottom country around this remote stream north and east of Silver City was lush and green, not what you’d expect in the desert Southwest. Wildflowers soaked up the sunlight after a week of solid rain, and the grass along the trail draped over the bare dirt, disguising our path as we pushed deeper into the wilderness in search of these special trout.

Seven of us pierced the Gila wildlands that day, and, despite the best efforts of a clueless pot-shotter, all seven of us made it out without holes in our hides. We never figured out who was shooting or what they were shooting at.

But we did catch Gilas. Lots of them.

On the whole, they’re a pretty unremarkable fish, at least to look at. They look a little like their cousins to the north, the Rio Grande cutthroats, but without the heavy spots and, of course, without the tell-tale gill slash. They also resemble another Gila cousin — the rainbow, but without the red stripe. But, for small water, they were strong, thick-bodied, bronze-hued trout that put a good bend in a light, glass rod. And chasing them where they belonged, in this remote and wild country about a hundred miles from the Mexican border added to the adventure of checking another fish off the life list.

Kirk, at the time a guide, editor and freelance fly fishing writer, remarked more than once about the countryside and the sheer bounty of the mountains that sprang from the arid desert and pushed their way into the clouds. The summer monsoons — at times so torrential that every low spot on the map brimmed with standing water after a storm — greened up the landscape and pushed the Gila’s fauna into full view. We chased wild turkeys out of the piñons, spooked fat and happy mule deer and watched golden eagles ride the steamy thermals overhead.

After days spent hiking deep into the backcountry along the West Fork of the Gila River in search of brown trout, and touring Anasazi cliff dwellings abandoned for some unknown reason a thousand years ago, we rested our bones at the funky Gila Hot Springs Lodge, where good whiskey and warm water lulled us to sleep.

But the day I held that first Gila trout in my hands — a victim of a high-floating Adams — will always be special to me. Native trout, because they’ve been pushed into the recesses of their former ranges, are special creatures in a world where better is often measured by bigger. That’s certainly true in much of the Gila, where smallmouth bass and opportunistic browns now dominate the main stem of the Gila River. The native fish, pushed nearly into memory, now thrive only in tiny waters where the only people interested in seeing them rise to a fly are those of us willing to navigate treacherous mountain roads and then hike deep into the wild.

But what most folks don’t realize is that the trophy fish in today’s chopped up version of our country’s once-pristine heart aren’t the interlopers that’ll hit a popper in froggy water or chase a streamer in a deep hole under the highway bridge. The real trophies are the fish you can only get to with effort and tire rubber and locked-in hubs. And even then you have to park and walk, sometimes for miles, because that’s what it takes to experience the land as it was a century ago, or longer. And that’s the kind of land that nurtures the rarest of the rare.

Long live the Gila trout, and God bless the angler willing to chase them. As long as we walk the creekside trails and marvel at a creature so rare that it nearly winked out of existence, we know someone cares enough to check in on them now and then.

And as long as we tell our children the tales only these adventures spawn, we can rest knowing these fish have a future.

Click HERE for the full article by Chris Hunt in Hatch magazine.

Bounty on brown trout to protect native fish

LEES FERRY — The reflection of the red rocks made it tough to tell where the water ended and the cliffs began as Barron Tsinigine cast his line into the river. It was daybreak and he had been fishing for rainbow trout, until he found out he could earn $25 for landing a brown trout.

That’s when his plan changed.

“I’m in the same boat as everyone else right now. I’m unemployed and it’d be nice to make a little bit of cash, as well as get a meal,” Tsinigine said. “I’ll be out here fishing either way, at least now I can get paid for it.”

Tsinigine was one of the first anglers to participate in Arizona’s incentivized harvest of brown trout. Wildlife agencies are funding the pilot program to cull the brown trout population in the Colorado River, in the hopes of keeping the predacious trout from moving downstream and endangering native fish, like the humpback chub.

Anglers can catch a $25 check for every brown trout harvested, as long as it is at least six inches in length. To receive the reward, the brown trout must have been caught legally in the Colorado River, in the roughly 15-mile stretch between the Glen Canyon Dam and the Paria River inflow.

There is a newly established station at the Lees Ferry boat ramp where anglers can clean the trout and fill out data cards. They must also deposit the fish head and entrails at a collection station outside the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center.

“The only extra step for me is filling out a card and I want to do that because how else are they going to know where to send my check,” Tisingine said, with a grin. “I drive by the center no matter what. This is as simple as it can be. My wife will be thrilled.”

By incentivizing anglers like Tsinigine, the National Park Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department are hoping to avoid the use of more aggressive management tactics — like disrupting spawn beds or electro-fishing — to diminish the population of brown trout.

“It is unfortunate that such a coveted sports fish, like brown trout, lives in an area that is incompatible with our native fish management plan,” said Scott Rogers, an aquatic wildlife program manager for the Game and Fish Department. “But we’re not trying to remove every brown trout, just enough to mitigate the risk of them moving downstream.”

Program to thin fish population

This is one of the first such harvests in Arizona. It will run for the next three to four years, at which time wildlife agencies will reassess the trout population.

The brown trout, known for its olivebrown scales and its ability to evade capture, is a fish-eating predator that was introduced to the state in the 1930s.

“As brown trout become adults, they feed almost exclusively on other fish and they have a voracious appetite,” said Ken Hyde, chief of science and resource management for the park service at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. “Our real worry is that they move downstream and start eating native fish that are considered endangered or threatened.”

Generally, fish only move downstream when they run out of space or food. According to Hyde, monitoring data from the Game and Fish Department has shown a dramatic increase of brown trout over the last six years.

“As a fish-eating fish, having them in the same system as endangered or threatened native fish can be problematic if we don’t manage it closely, which is why we’re trying this incentivized program,” Rogers said. “This is an experiment, but we’re hopeful that it will be successful.”

If at the end of the pilot program the harvest is considered unsuccessful, the two agencies will turn to more aggressive mechanical removal tactics.

“We’re asking the public to pitch in because we need their help to avoid taking more drastic steps,” said Jeff Arnold, a fish biologist for the park service at the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. “Mechanical removal is more expensive and much less popular among native tribes and angler groups because they think it will have a negative impact on the rest of the fishery.”

Mechanical removals include the disruption of spawning beds and electro- fishing.

“An incentivized harvest is the least intrusive type of management, which is why we are starting with that,” Rogers said. “By communicating with anglers, we’re hoping to convince them to partake in this program so that we can avoid any other invasive and aggressive means of mitigating the brown trout problem.”

The first time Jim Strogen went fishing was when he was 3 years old, or perhaps he was 2. He doesn’t remember. But he says he probably learned to fish faster than he learned to walk.

The lifelong angler is a recreational fishing representative for the technical working group of the Glen Canyon Adaptive Management Program. Strogen has been acting as a bridge between agencies and anglers throughout the development and launch of the trout harvest.

“The hardest part of starting a new program is getting the locals to buy in,” Strogen said. “It’s hard for some anglers to understand the importance of native fish down river because, from an angling perspective, humpback chub isn’t something we care as much about as brown trout.”

According to Strogen, the idea of catching and killing fish for money is also alien to many anglers, especially fly fishermen, who primarily practice catch and release.

“It’s not inherently obvious to a lot of anglers why catching a brown trout and killing it is a good thing because many have been taught it’s better for the environment to release them,” Strogen said. “But in this case, keeping and killing the trout is what’s best because if this type of management fails, then those agencies are going to have to try something more aggressive.”

Throughout the development of this pilot program, Strogen, Hyde and others involved in its development have been conducting informational meetings with popular fishing organizations, like Trout Unlimited, to explain directly to anglers how an incentivized harvest will help.

“Anglers are key to helping us manage brown trout,” Hyde said. “It’d be tough to get trout numbers back down without them.”

Incentivized harvests elsewhere

While this is one of Arizona’s first paid harvests, other states, such as Washington, have been funding similar programs for years.

According to Hyde, the brown trout program was generally modeled after the Northern Pike Reward Program run by the Colville Confederated Tribes’ Department of Fish and Wildlife.

For the past four years, anglers in Washington have been rewarded with $10 for every northern pike harvested in the Columbia River between Wells Dam and the Canadian border. Like the brown trout, the northern pike is an invasive species that feasts on other fish.

“For us, any northern pike is a bad northern pike. We want them all gone. They can consume so much fish that they can essentially wipe out all our other fisheries,” said Holly McLellan, the principal biologist for the tribes. “We’re very concerned about the expansion of northern pike into waters where they can consume salmon and other native fish.”

Since the start of the reward program in 2017, more than 3,100 northern pike have been caught by anglers, a third of those pike this year. The pike program operates on a budget of approximately $30,000 a year and has funding through 2025.

One of the key differences between these two incentivized harvests is the six-inch size minimum in Arizona. In Washington, a harvested northern pike of any size is compensated with $10. Last year, the average size of pike turned in for a reward was 16.5 inches.

“We’re really trying to concentrate on adults because they’re the biggest, the most likely to eat the most amount of fish,” Hyde said. “If the adults also move down river, they are more likely to spawn and continue expanding the brown trout population.”

Since the launch of the pike program, McLellan says one of the challenges has been maintaining anglers’ interest. While the first year of the program brought in over 1,000 northern pike, the next two years saw a steady decline to just under 400 pike in 2019.

That has now bounced back to 1,060 pike turned in by mid-November of this year. One of the reasons for the renewed interest is the improvements the department has made to communication, according to McLellan.

Consistent reminders on social media as well as the promotion of the program in nearby cities and towns has kept the harvest on the minds of avid anglers. McLellan believes this is an important aspect of any successful program because it corrects misinformation and reminds anglers that they can both help the environment and earn money.

“We want anglers to feel like they are part of the solution to this problem. Together, we can accomplish our objective in removing them,” McLellan said. “The rewards program is the angler’s way of helping solve the problem.”

Anton L. Delgado is an environmental reporter for The Arizona Republic/ AZCentral. Follow his reporting on Twitter at @antonldelgado and tell him about stories at anton.delgado@arizonarepublic.com.

Environmental coverage on az central.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow The Republic environmental reporting team at environment.azcentral.com and @azcenvironment on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“We’re asking the public to pitch in because we need their help to avoid taking more drastic steps.”

Jeff Arnold Fish biologist, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Click HERE for the full article by Anton L. Delgado in The Arizona Republic.

Hands on Conservation

It is said that hands-on experience is the perfect teaching companion to classroom discussion and reading. The Trout In the Classroom program is a great example of this.

Started in 2006, the program inspires aquatic and water conservation knowledge in schoolchildren across Arizona.

Partners in the Arizona program include the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the Council and Chapters of Arizona Trout Unlimited, and many hunting and fishing clubs across the state. Partial funding is provided by grants from the sales of Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation’s Conserving Wildlife specialty license plates.

One of the first programs of its kind in Arizona, Trout In the Classroom provides knowledge to young people (grades four through 12) as they raise trout from eggs to fingerling-size fish in their classrooms. Teachers and students are trained to feed the fish and monitor tank water quality.

“We equip teachers with the information they need to inspire students to learn and research any questions they have about fish biology,” says Trout Unlimited Arizona Council Chair Steve Reiter. “We know there are less young people getting outdoors and so we bring the experience to them.”

“In the program, students use STREAM [science, technology, recreation, engineering, art and math] approaches, learn about habitats and water resources and gain a valuable conservation perspective,” says Jim Walker, chair of the Arizona Trout In the Classroom program.

In 2014, AZGFD’s Aquatic Branch Chief Chris Cantrell and Statewide Hatchery Program Manager Geoffrey Rabinovich met with Walker and the Trout Unlimited team to discuss expanding the program from three classrooms into additional schools. The next year, Rabinovich was approached by Cantrell to be the new AZGFD liaison for the program.

“I wanted to help provide the tools to facilitate student learning of trout culture, fish biology, conservation and sportfishing,” Rabinovich says.

Since the 2014 meeting, the team has increased participation to 37 class-rooms as of last year. The long-term goal is to involve 100 schools statewide.

Department hatchery program staff Bryce Sisson, Trevor Nelson, David Fox, Kyle Tulisiak, Wayne Jones and Cindy Dunn are also instrumental in helping coordinate the program.

The Gila Trout Chapter in Payson has been involved with Trout In the Classroom for 10 years. “We are always anxious to educate children about the ecosystem of Arizona streams and lakes,” says Dorothy Howell, coordinator of the program and one of the chapter leaders. Howell and her volunteers are the primary contacts with teachers, helping them with equipment and advice about how to maintain healthy trout.

“The students are more involved in their learning because they are active with it, making it a more meaningful experience for both teacher and students,” says Kim Hansen, a sixth-grade teacher at Ruth Fisher Middle School in Tonopah.
Each year, the program begins with a teacher workshop, an educational opportunity that still continues today. This year’s workshop will be held online and in one-on-one pairings to meet CDC Covid-19 standards.

With the help of volunteers, Trout Unlimited chapters deliver and assemble 55-gallon fish tanks, a chiller to maintain water temperature and all the supplies and chemicals needed to help the eggs hatch and grow into fingerling-sized trout in each classroom. With an extensive statewide volunteer delivery process to the schools, AZGFD provides the trout eggs and fish food for the program.

“Trout propagated by the Arizona Game and Fish Department are a resource provided for all licensed anglers,” Cantrell says. “The Trout In the Classroom partnership with Trout Unlimited and participating Arizona schools provides the department an additional opportunity to broaden our reach into the diversity of Arizona.”

When each program ends in May, teachers report their findings to Trout Unlimited. To develop and practice their public-speaking skills, students present program reports to other classes, school officials, local service clubs and nonprofit organizations.

The fish are donated to conservation centers to nourish captive wildlife recovering from illness or injury. In the future, with disease precautions in place, it may be feasible to stock the fingerlings in rivers and streams.

Trout In the Classroom partners also hope the program encourages young people to venture outdoors to further explore nature with their friends and family and consider a career involving conservation.

To learn more about Trout In the Classroom, visit aztic.org.


Click HERE for the full for the full article by Anna Johnson in Arizona Wildlife Views.

Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited receives $2,500 grant

The Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited received a grant of $2,500 through the Trout Unlimited national Embrace A Stream grant program.

Volunteers from the council and chapter will use the funds to restore portions of Christopher Creek near the R-C Scout Ranch, about 20 miles east of Payson.

The project includes improving coldwater stream flows by habitat enhancements and restoration of native Gila trout. AZTU and its chapters will build rock and log barbs, improve a leaking spring-box diversion allowing cold water flows back into Christopher Creek. Additional improvements include: increased public access to Christopher Creek; reestablishing a youth fishing pond by draining, dredging, removing cattails, adding spawning beds, and refilling the pond by adding native roundtail chub and longfin dace.

“We are thrilled to be able to do more great work restoring and improving Christopher Creek and the R-C Scout Ranch pond thanks to this Embrace A Stream grant,” said Steve Reiter, Arizona Council chair. “With this grant, we will engage more than 100 volunteers from our local community to work on a creek we all know and love as residents and anglers.”

Embrace A Stream is a matching grant program administered by Trout Unlimited that awards funds to local chapters and councils for coldwater fisheries conservation. Since its inception in 1975, the grant program has funded more than 1,100 individual projects for $4.75 million in direct cash grants. Local chapters and councils contributed an additional $14 million in cash and in-kind services to EAS funded projects, for a total investment of more than $19 million.

This year, 17 chapters and councils were awarded grants for projects restoring stream habitat, improving fish passage, and protecting water quality in 18 states. The grant program is funded almost entirely by individual donations from Trout Unlimited members and conservation-minded individuals.

“We are thrilled to support the Arizona Council in its efforts to improve such an important local trout stream,” said Russ Meyer, chair of the Embrace A Stream grants committee, a group of Trout Unlimited volunteer leaders from across the country. “This year’s grant applications were extremely competitive, but the proposal for Christopher Creek stood out in our committee.

Click HERE for the full story in the Payson Roundup.

Restoring Christopher Creek

The Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited received a grant of $2,500 through the Trout Unlimited national Embrace A Stream grant program #embraceastream. Volunteers from the council and chapter will use the funds to restore portions of Christopher Creek in Gila County near the R-C Scout Ranch, about 20-miles east of Payson. The project includes improving cold-water stream flows by habitat enhancements and restoration of native Gila Trout. To accomplish these goals AZTU and its chapters will build rock and log barbs, improve a leaking spring-box diversion allowing cold water flows back into Christopher Creek. Additional improvements include: increased public access to Christopher Creek; reestablishing a youth fishing pond by draining, dredging, removing cattails, adding spawning beds, and refilling the pond adding native roundtail chub and longfin dace.

“We’re thrilled to be able to do more great work restoring and improving Christopher Creek and the R-C Scout Ranch pond thanks to this Embrace A Stream grant,” said Steve Reiter, Arizona Council Chair. “With this grant, we will engage more than 100 volunteers from our local community to work on a creek we all know and love as residents and anglers.”

Embrace A Stream is a matching grant program administered by Trout Unlimited #embraceastream that awards funds to local chapters and councils for coldwater fisheries conservation. Since its inception in 1975, the grant program has funded more than 1,100 individual projects for a total of $4.75 million in direct cash grants. Local chapters and councils contributed an additional $14 million in cash and in-kind services to EAS funded projects, for a total investment of more than $19 million.

This year, 17 chapters and councils were awarded grants for projects restoring stream habitat, improving fish passage, and protecting water quality in 18 different states from coast to coast. The grant program is funded almost entirely by individual donations from Trout Unlimited members and conservation-minded individuals who know that local restoration projects, led by local volunteers, can make a big difference in improving the health and habitat in our nation’s rivers and streams.

“We’re thrilled to support the Arizona Council in its efforts to improve such an important local trout stream,” said Russ Meyer, chair of the Embrace A Stream grants committee, a group of Trout Unlimited volunteer leaders from across the country. “This year’s grant applications were extremely competitive, but the proposal for Christopher Creek stood out in our committee.”

About Trout Unlimited

Trout Unlimited is the nation’s largest coldwater conservation organization, with more than 300,000 members and supporters dedicated to conserving, protecting, and restoring North America’s trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. Visit us online at www.tu.org.

About the Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited

The Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited serves more than 3500 members and supporters in the state of Arizona through its four chapters. The chapters: Grand Canyon in Flagstaff, Gila Trout in Payson, Zane Grey in Phoenix valley, and Old Pueblo in Tucson, work with partners throughout the state to:

  • restore local streams and rivers,
  • engage over 250 area youth in outdoor education programs,
  • co-host with Arizona Game and Fish Department, an annual Native and Wild Trout Conference; and,
  • are active in 37-schools with TU’s Trout in the Classroom program, reaching over 4,000 students and the program connects with an additional 10,000 people through visits by parents, relatives, school administrators and classroom guests.

Click HERE for the full story by Juliet Eilperin at MyLocalNews.US.

Alaska mining executive resigns a day after being caught on tape boasting of his ties to GOP politicians

Mining executive Tom Collier, who boasted in secretly taped conversations that he had leveraged his ties to Republican officials to advance a controversial project in Alaska, resigned Wednesday.

Collier, CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, offered his resignation a day after the group Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released recordings of Zoom calls in which he talked of currying favor with the White House and Alaska lawmakers to win federal approval for a massive gold and copper mine.

Collier and Ronald Thiessen, CEO of the Canadian parent company, Northern Dynasty Minerals, were recorded separately suggesting that GOP politicians would not block Pebble Mine even though some had raised concerns about its environmental impact.

Collier, who served as chief of staff to then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt under President Bill Clinton, stood to receive $12.4 million in bonuses if the federal government approved a key permit for the mine and it could be upheld in court. Speaking to EIA investigators, who were posing as possible investors in the project, he touted his effort to funnel money to Republican politicians in Alaska and defeat those who sided with Democrats against the mine.

“I’ve supported all the Republican candidates in the state,” said Collier, who is registered as an independent. “I meet with the two senators, the congressman, the governor on a regular basis and they welcome me as someone they know supports the Republican Party.”

“Now, having said that, it’s entirely possible that we may have [former vice president Joe] Biden as a president, and if we do, I’m gonna brush off my Democratic credentials and start using them a little more actively than I do,” he added.

After the tapes became public Tuesday, several politicians mentioned by Collier and Thiessen in the recordings sought to distance themselves from the men. A spokesman for Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) said, “The individuals in those videos embellished their relationships with state and federal officials at all levels.” Officials at the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency also said the comments in the tapes did not accurately reflect their agencies’ interactions with Collier and Thiessen.

In the statement, Northern Dynasty Minerals said Collier “has submitted his resignation in light of comments made about elected and regulatory officials in Alaska in private conversations covertly videotaped by an environmental activist group.”

A wide range of critics — including Alaska Natives, environmentalists and many anglers, such as the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.; the vice president’s former chief of staff, Nick Ayers; and Fox News host Tucker Carlson — have opposed the proposed mine out of concern that waste from the operation could pollute Bristol Bay. The waters, in southwest Alaska, are home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

Within a matter of weeks, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could grant a permit for the mine. While the agency found in late July that the project would have “no measurable effect” on the area’s fish populations, it informed Pebble Limited Partnership last month that it had to do more to show how it would offset the more than 100 miles of streams and 2,300 acres of wetlands it would permanently destroy.

Thiessen, who was caught on tape disparaging GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska, offered an apology Wednesday but did not step down from his post.

“The unethical manner in which these tapes were acquired does not excuse the comments that were made, or the crass way they were expressed,” Thiessen said. “On behalf of the company and our employees, I offer my unreserved apology to all those who were hurt or offended, and all Alaskans.”

Chris Wood, president of the conservation group Trout Unlimited, said in a phone interview that Collier’s resignation marked a blow for a project that does not deserve federal approval.

“Tom Collier is a fall guy for a project that is fundamentally flawed and has essentially been a flimflam operation from the very beginning,” Wood said. “From the beginning, it has been an exercise in obfuscation. They took more than a dozen years to get an application together, and then they lied about the scope and scale of the potential project — either to Congress or to investors. But no matter how you slice it, they lied.”

In the taped conversations, Thiessen and Collier suggested that while they were seeking a permit for a 20-year operation, it might expand and last for as long as 180 years. In Wednesday’s statement, Thiessen left open the possibility that they could apply for additional permits to extend the scope and duration of the mining operation.

“What we have said consistently, and is reinforced in the ‘Pebble tapes’ released this week, is the operator of the Pebble mine may decide at some point in the future to propose additional phases of development, but there exists no formal plan to do so today,” he said.

Pebble Limited Partnership has named former chief executive John Shively as interim CEO.

Click HERE for the full story by Juliet Eilperin in The Washington Post.

Proposed Pebble Mine project cannot be permitted in Bristol Bay

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finds controversial project will likely result in significant degradation and significant adverse effects to waters, fish.

ANCHORAGE, AK – Today, in a move welcomed by thousands of American workers, Alaskan communities, and the most prolific wild salmon fishery in the world, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) said it found the proposed Pebble mine would likely cause significant degradation and significant adverse effects to the waters and fisheries of Bristol Bay, and cannot receive a permit under the Clean Water Act as proposed, creating a significant barrier to the project moving forward.

“This is a great demonstration of democracy in action and a victory for common sense. The finding demonstrates that the voices of millions of Americans still matter and reflects the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence that’s been brought to bear,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “The more public scrutiny this mine faces, the more science that’s brought to bear in its review, the more it stinks. The resources that sustain this bucket-list destination for sport anglers, local communities and commercial fishing families are worth protecting. Thank you to the legions of supporters that helped us get here.”

Because of the proposed mine’s massive risks, for more than fifteen years Trout Unlimited has worked with communities, anglers, hunters, Tribes, businesses and local and national partners to galvanize opposition to this project. Hundreds of thousands of anglers, and hundreds of outdoor businesses have made their voice heard time and time again, most recently appealing to the Trump Administration directly.

“This is a good day for Bristol Bay,” said Nelli Williams, Alaska director of Trout Unlimited. “No corner should be cut when considering a giant mine in the heart of a place this cherished and important. The Pebble Partnership put forward a half-baked plan with a litany of problems. Pebble had its opportunity to go through the process, but the project fails to meet the standards required. Kudos to all the decision makers involved for calling Pebble out on that.

Over the two-year permit review process, many organizations, federal and state agencies, independent scientists, and countless individuals raised potentially fatal concerns about this project. Among them are the project’s destruction of streams and wetlands, its untested and incomplete water management and mitigation plans, unreliable tailings dam design, seismic activity near the deposit, and its huge economic costs. Those concerned about the proposed Pebble mine also cite threats to existing businesses, communities, and cultures that rely on the intact fishery, among various other issues.

“Today’s actions reflect just how bad this mine proposal is and how incompatible it is with the Bristol Bay region,” said Brian Kraft, owner of Alaska Sportsman’s Lodge, president of Katmai Service Providers and TU business member. “Some places simply are not compatible with large industrial, open-pit mine operations, and the Bristol Bay region’s spawning grounds certainly are one of those locations. This is a good day for the people of Bristol Bay that have loudly said for 16 years now that this is the wrong place for this mine. It’s a good day for Americans who care about clean water, healthy fisheries, and existing jobs that rely on those fisheries.”

The final Environmental Impact Statement documented nearly 200 miles of impacted streams, and 4,500 acres of impacted waters and wetlands (See FEIS at 4.22-15, Table 4.22-1.). The Army Corps said the function of the tailings facility was “uncertain,” and the Corps’ EIS contractor described it as “very similar” to the facility that failed catastrophically at the Mount Polley mine in 2014.

“This is a moment to celebrate,” said Williams. “The opposition to this project runs strong and deep, the science is clear, and there is no way this ill-conceived project can coexist with Bristol Bay salmon. The message is clear from sportsmen and women across the country to the Pebble Partnership: It’s time to pack up and go home. You’re not welcome in Bristol Bay.”

Critical document release confirms the damage Pebble will bring to Bristol Bay

On Thursday, July 23, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a critical document in the permit application review process for the proposed Pebble mine: the final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). The FEIS shows more than 191 miles of streams and 4,614 acres of wetlands would be impacted if phase one of the proposed Pebble mine advances, with 185 miles and 3,841 acres permanently impacted.

The FEIS is one of the final critical documents in the permitting process for what could be the largest open-pit mine in North American in the headwaters of the largest sockeye salmon fishery on the planet.

Take action today. The White House needs to be reminded that anglers depend on Bristol Bay. Please send a follow up request for the president to deny Pebble’s permit through the Army Corps of Engineers now.

The FEIS will be the basis for the Army Corps of Engineers’ record of decision, which will grant or deny Pebble their most important federal permit. The Corps must wait at least 30 days after the release of the FEIS to issue their record of decision.

“The proponents of this proposed mine remain unable to prove they can move forward safely, without jeopardizing my industry and others. They’ve had their chance to go through the process. Now enough is enough,” said Brian Kraft, president of Katmai Service Providers, which represents dozens of sportfishing and tourism businesses in Bristol Bay. “If this administration wants to uphold rural American jobs, then the only option is to deny this permit.”

In January 2019, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), which was followed by a national public comment period. Over 685,000 Americans -including thousands of TU members- formally opposed the mine and noted significant inadequacies and gaping holes in the review of the Pebble project proposal.
Other federal agencies – including the Department of Interior, the EPA and the State of Alaska – identified these issues and raised significant concern in their comments, including as recently as few months ago during review of the preliminary final EIS, which remain unanswered today.

Following the agency comments, Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan publicly stated that if the Army Corps fails to address the concerns that agencies noted with the DEIS, a permit should not be issued.

The release of the FEIS is a critical component of the rushed and fast-tracked two year permit review process for the proposed Pebble mine that the Army Corps of Engineers began in December 2017. Need an overview of how the process has carried out since then?

In May, over 250 fishing, hunting, and outdoor recreation businesses and organizations, and 31,000 sportsmen and women signed a letter calling on the president to deny Pebble the permit. The President, through the Army Corps of Engineers, still has the power to choose a powerhouse American fishery, 15,000 American jobs and a sporting paradise over a foreign mining company with a risky and incomplete plan.

Take action today. The release of the FEIS launches the last window of time for the President to intervene before a key permit for the mine could be issued. Sign our request to the President – yes, again – asking him to stop the proposed Pebble mine now.

Click HERE for the full article at tu.org.