Wild Colorado: High-tech help for endangered fish | SummitDaily.com

Wild Colorado: High-tech help for endangered fish

DAILY NEWS STAFF REPORT

Special to the Daily/U.S. Fish and Wildlife ServicAt the Price-Stubb Diversion Dam on the Colorado River near Rifle, a new 'passive integrated transponder' (PIT) tag system is now monitoring the movement of endangered fish that are PIT tagged.

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program is lending a high-tech hand to four species of endangered fish on the Western Slope.

At the Price-Stubb Diversion Dam on the Colorado River near Rifle, a new “passive integrated transponder” (PIT) tag system is now monitoring the movement of endangered fish that are PIT tagged. A PIT tag is similar to a small microchip placed in a dog or cat at a veterinary clinic for individual identification if lost.

The new PIT tag system, installed in early August, consists of four, 6-foot-by-5-foot antennas attached to the box culvert at the top of the fish passage. The system detects PIT tags to track whether fish are moving up or down the Price-Stubb Fish Passage. The system provides remote sensing and is built to withstand the flows and debris of the Colorado River.

“This type of research tool is a safe, cost-effective way to monitor fish movement in the fish passage,” said Recovery Program Research coordinator Tom Czapla.

Four days after the system became operational, the first PIT-tagged fish – an endangered Colorado pikeminnow – used the passage. Data obtained at Price-Stubb and other locations show that the fish swam 130 river miles during the past year.

“We anticipate receiving important information about all four species of endangered fish from this remotely sensed structure,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service project leader Michelle Shaughnessy. “Most of the endangered fish are PIT-tagged, and this tracking system will help identify the type and number of species that move through the fish passage and inhabit this river reach.”

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Construction of the Price-Stubb fish passage was completed in the summer of 2008 and was the last barrier to fish migration in 290 miles of the Colorado River from Utah’s Lake Powell to the upper end of critical habitat, near Rifle.

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program is a cooperative partnership of local, state and federal agencies, water organizations, power customers and environmental groups established in 1988 to recover the endangered fish while water development proceeds in accordance with federal and state laws and interstate compacts. For more info, visit http://www.coloradoriverrecovery.org.

Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project announced the hiring of Rob Firth as project coordinator for the Upper Colorado River Basin in Grand and Summit counties.

Firth retired in 2008 after a distinguished 25-year career with the Colorado Division of Wildlife as a district and area wildlife manager in Grand, Summit and parts of Routt and Eagle counties in northwest Colorado.

“We are excited to put Rob Firth’s experience and skills to work protecting fish and wildlife habitat in the Upper Colorado River Basin,” said Drew Peternell, director of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Water Project, which works to improve stream flows and coldwater fisheries in the state. “Rob is a trusted local voice on resource issues. And he knows how to bring people together to find solutions. That makes him a perfect choice to coordinate projects on behalf of TU in the Upper Colorado.”

For many years, the health of the Upper Colorado River Basin, including the Fraser and Williams Fork rivers and other important tributaries, has suffered as a result of large-scale diversions of water to Colorado’s Front Range, with low stream flows degrading coldwater fish habitat. Firth will work to assure that the proposed Windy Gap Firming Project and Moffat Tunnel Firming Project do not further damage an already over-tapped river system.

Firth will also plan and implement on-the-ground projects that improve coldwater habitat in the Upper Colorado River Basin. He will work closely with water users, private landowners and agency staff to identify opportunities to restore streams and implement cooperative agreements with irrigators that benefit agricultural operations and fish habitat simultaneously.

“I have always respected Trout Unlimited as an outstanding grassroots sportsmen’s conservation group,” Firth said. “I’m eager to work with local partners to find ways to protect and enhance our fisheries here on the West Slope.”