Redband trout are known for their hardiness and ability to survive in often fragmented habitat. However, conditions in watersheds suffering no-stop chronic cattle grazing impacts coupled with loss of tree cover reach a tipping point where the fish can no longer survive. The ability of the system to retain and slowly release water is lost.
A look at the imperiled redband trout habitats in the Owyhee shows BLM management has largely forsaken headwater redband habitats, with healthy populations being wiped out of all but a few deep-walled livestock inaccessible canyon areas.
Redband Already Extirpated From Many Watersheds
Redband trout are adapted to survive the harsh temperature extremes and reduced water flows of the high desert which are lethal to most other trout.
Redband trout have already been extirpated from many Owyhee streams (green streams on map). They are absent from many reaches of the streams shown in blue and red on the map. Large reaches of some streams mapped are dry except in spring runoff. Example: West Little Owyhee in Oregon Owyhee, increasing reaches of East and West Fork Red Canyon Creek, Pole Creek, Battle Creek and many other places.
Vulnerability of Grazed Headwaters After Wild or Prescribed Fire or BLM Treatment Deforestation – How Watersheds Die
Photos Illustrate the Effects of Fire on Grazed Red Canyon Creek Headwater Tributary Watersheds
Both the East and West Forks of Red Canyon Creek have suffered grazing stress following a past fire, and drought. Photos illustrate how vulnerable the watershed is to a summer rainstorm. The de-stabilized watershed “blew out”, suffered scouring flows. More reaches became uninhabitable by redbands. Photos also show the very poor water quality, and erosion with loss of live western juniper cover on slopes of watershed. Proposed BLM clearcutting “treatments” and burning greatly threaten watersheds. Even in cases where BLM may cut trees, BLM Is proposing to “pile burn” slash. Where these practices have been used in Burns BLM lands in the Steens, they resulted in a proliferation of cheatgrass. As these photos illustrate, cheatgrass with its shallow roots erodes during higher intensity storm events.
Grazing Effects on Redband Trout Habitats
Here’s how cattle grazing is extinguishing perennial flows water flows and extirpating populations in the headwaters of the Middle Fork Owyhee River and across the dying headwaters.
Now, BLM “treatments” threaten deforestation of this and other watersheds in the Owyhee where populations are barely clinging to existence.
Juniper trees are often the only shade, and their roots are the only “structure” remaining in cattle-battered Owyhee headwaters. Now, BLM is proposing deforestation across these systems even in canyon settings – claiming to “save” sage-grouse. This is an excuse for the agency failing to grapple with livestock-spurred weeds and degradation across sagebrush communities.
Vile, grossly polluted pools of water reek of livestock waste , and even hardy redbands cannot survive under such abuse.
Cattle-caused desertification in action.
As the redband trout watershed dies, and the system loses all ability to hold and slowly retain water, the trees get blamed for the damage wrought by cattle.
Bank erosion exposing boulders, water pools murky and full of algae. Upland grass is exotic bulbous bluegrass, a very shallow-rooted plant that aggressively competes with native vegetation under grazing pressure. The watershed unravels …
Redband trout are genetically similar to anadromous steelhead, and can develop the anadromous habit. The construction of the Hells Canyon dam complex in the 1960s blocked anadromous fish passage to the Bruneau, Owhyee, Boise, and other Snake River tributaries. Historically, steelhead had inhabited Nevada headwater streams of the Bruneau and Owyhee. Redband trout reside their entire life inland. Redband populations harbor the genetic potential for restoring native runs, if fish passage is achieved around dams. Currently, the Hells Canyon dams are being re-licensed, and Tribes are seeking fish passage.