Bull Trout Task Force
Bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) are a char native to the Pacific Northwest. Bull trout were listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1998. There are several reasons for their decline in the Yakima Basin, as well as the Pacific Northwest, such as: passage barriers, water quality, incidental take, illegal poaching, competition with non-native species, hybridization with brook trout, and decreased food sources.
The Bull Trout Task Force was piloted in 2011 and is a unique project that provides an on-the-ground crew to support bull trout related activities in the Yakima Basin. Objectives of the project include: public outreach, removal of recreational rock dams, monitoring passage conditions in spawning tributaries, emergency fish salvage, population monitoring though redd and snorkel surveys, and assisting with special research projects.
Since the Bull Trout Task Force project began, the crew has directly educated over 7,000 anglers and recreationists about bull trout and their habitat, removed over 450 recreation dams, posted hundreds signs, monitored dozens of tributaries for passage during summer and fall migration, and assisted with continuing the WA Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 25 years of bull trout spawning data.
The critical importance of this project in the Yakima basin is that it addresses a suite of threats, and subsequent recovery actions, identified in the 2015 USFWS Bull Trout Recovery Plan and in the locally developed 2012 Yakima Bull Trout Action Plan. Across the Yakima Core Area, in most of the 15 local populations, there are similar effects from recreationists both direct and incidental to their activities. These threats include but are not limited to: angling, issues associated with the building of swimming pools in creeks (i.e. recreational dams), riparian vegetation removal, harassment during spawning, streambank destruction, and poaching. Many of these threats are identified as high severity threats. The Bull Trout Task Force is a cost effective, locally-supported way to mitigate these threats and bring about positive change in the way people view bull trout and their habitat.
The Bull Trout Task Force project was built on strong partnerships with numerous agencies and organizations. The primary partners sponsoring the BTTF are the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan, Mid-Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group, USDA Forest Service, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
The Bull Trout Task Force is an important component to bull trout recovery in the Yakima Basin. By identifying and removing seasonal, manmade barriers to passage, the Task Force prevents direct take of this threatened species. The Task Force members are charismatic advocates for species recovery, and serve as the “face” of bull trout for anglers and other river recreationists during the summer months. Bull trout recovery will require anglers that are informed that bull trout are ESA-listed, that can positively identify bull trout and know bull trout must be released if incidentally caught. The Bull Trout Task Force is an effective means of protecting and restoring bull trout populations in the Yakima Basin, and can serve as a model throughout the fish’s range.
Photos above: A recreation dam identified and dismantled by the BTTF on the South Fork Ahtanum. Photo credit: Cassandra Weekes