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July 27th, 2016 ~ Vol. 85 No. 30
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Groups urge responsible trail use at Atlas Staging Area
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
EZRA BLACK
Pass Herald Reporter
A slash of red on the lower jaw, green backs with yellow or silver sides, black spots above the lateral line and a slightly forked tail fin: truly, genetically pure westslope cutthroat trout are about as colourful as they are rare.

The species has suffered a decline in numbers due to habitat loss, overharvesting and the introduction of non-native species. Scientists believe the fish now inhabit about five per cent of their original distribution.

“Westslope cutthroat trout now exist on the edges, fringes and margins of their former range. Populations are disconnected from one another and are small enough some are at significant risk of winking out of existence,” writes fisheries biologist Lorne Fitch in the Alberta Westslope Cutthroat Recovery Plan 2012-2017.

On July 22, TransCanada, Crowsnest Pass Fire/Rescue, the Oldman Watershed Council and the Crowsnest Pass Quad Squad held an information session at the Atlas Staging Area to encourage responsible backcountry practices to protect the fish.

Calling on quadders to “use the bridges,” to “save the fishes,” the groups offered educational instruction on the sensitivity of the community’s fish populations to ATVs in its creeks.

They reminded local riders that it is illegal to drive quads and four-by-four vehicles in Alberta's lakes and rivers. It's also illegal to drive a motorized vehicle in a natural waterway, and could come with fines up to $25,000.

"While motorized vehicle users may think it is fun to drive their motorized vehicle into a river, lake or stream, it can be harmful to the environment, the fish and the pocketbook," said the province in a statement last summer.
continued below ...
At the event, TransCanada announced it was launching a $200,000 project to remove an old equestrian bridge from Allison Creek, which had been interfering with the reproductive cycle of the westslope cutthroat.

“By clearing that bridge and working to repair the banks, it’s allowing them to swim upstream,” said TransCanada spokesperson Ruth Anne Beck. “It’s one project we’re working on because we have operations in the area.”

According to the province, the bridge was installed back in the 1990s by a commercial horse riding operation.

“We came up with a solution that everyone agreed upon would improve fish habitat in the Crowsnest Pass area - removing the submerged wooden equestrian bridge will expand the available habitat for westslope cutthroat trout,” said Back. “We will make the banks stable once we remove the bridge so we will plant shrubs to create stability.”

Shannon Frank, executive director of the Oldman Watershed Council, said she’s looking forward to the release of provincial recreation management plans that will designate specific trails for quadding.
continued below ...
Plans for the Porcupine Hills and a draft plan for the Castle Area will be released next year and a plan for the Livingstone Range, which contains most of the Oldman Watershed, will be done in 2018.

“They will provide a lot more clarity,” she said.

The decline of westslope cutthroat trout led to a federal recovery plan that was finalized in 2014. The plan designated Allison Creek critical habitat for Alberta’s threatened population of westslope cutthroat.

The critical habitat order, published by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in a November 2015 issue of the Canada Gazette, prohibits the destruction of any part of the trout’s habitat. The prohibition pertains to any recreational, commercial or industrial use that could harm trout streams in the southern Alberta foothills.
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July 27th ~ Vol. 85 No. 30
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