Bear Creek Watershed, Pikes Peak

The watershed is extremely important for its recreational opportunities, its value as a water resource, and as vital habitat for the last remaining wild population of the greenback cutthroat trout. RMFI is working with numerous government entities, conservation groups, and recreation advocacy groups to manage this area.
A reconstructed bank to keep water off the trail

Just west of Colorado Springs, Bear Creek holds the only remaining pure population of greenback cutthroat trout, Colorado’s state fish. The Bear Creek Watershed lies just west of the City of Colorado Springs along the eastern flank of the Pikes Peak Massif (38°48’15”, 104°55’30”). Encompassing National Forest lands administered by the Pike National Forest, private lands owned by Colorado Springs Utilities, and lands administered by the City of Colorado Springs, the watershed is extremely important for its recreational opportunities, its value as a water resource, and as vital habitat for the greenback cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki stomias).

As the highest priority site for conservation of the greenback, RMFI, US Forest Service, Colorado Springs Utilities, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and other project partners have been working to better manage activities within this high-value watershed and minimize impacts to the fish and its habitat.  The greenback cutthroat trout are found in a mere 4 miles of habitat within Bear Creek, which creates a very vulnerable situation for this population.

The history of this fish is complicated by the fact that it is not native to the Arkansas River Basin (where is currently resides), though it has been present for 130 years. However, it is the sole native cutthroat species for the South Platte Basin though it is not present in the basin today. Long-term recovery of the species includes reintroducing the fish in the South Platte Basin.

Bear Creek is a high gradient, coldwater stream located on the east side of Pikes Peak within a drainage that is challenged by naturally erosive Pikes Peak granite soil. Habitat suitable for the greenback cutthroat population is limited to approximately 3.4 miles within the headwaters of the stream. To protect this last remaining population of greenback cutthroat trout, it is important to restore this limited habitat to a fully functional condition.  Recent testing has revealed that approximately 750 adult fish remain in Bear Creek and represent the last remaining pure population of the species. The population is currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is undergoing an evaluation process to determine if the species should be listed as endangered.

RMFI has worked with the US Forest Service, Colorado Springs Utilities, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and US Fish and Wildlife Service in this watershed since 2009. Initial work focused on short-term, immediate projects to reduce the amount of sediment transported from the trail to the stream. Solutions included two short trail re-alignments to create a larger vegetation buffer between the trail and creek, constructing sediment traps off the trail to collect sediment, and constructing rock drains to allow water seeps to cross the trail without collecting sediment from the trail. These solutions are short-term in nature and require annual maintenance to ensure proper functionality. These initial projects focused on implementing targeted, short-term solutions to begin addressing these issues, but did not address the overall condition of the trail. Given the high-erodibility of the soil in the area and the popularity of the trail by multiple users groups (OHV, mountain bikes, and hikers), a long-term solution is needed to fully address the issue of sedimentation into Bear Creek.

Watershed Assessment

A watershed assessment was completed in early 2013. The assessment analyzed current conditions of the watershed, including recreation, access, cultural resources, aquatic life, wildlife, and numerous other issues. The conclusion of the document provides recommendations on future management. RMFI contributed to the trails assessments, providing an analysis of current conditions and possible trail re-route options. Currently, the Forest Service is undergoing a public scoping phase to solicit feedback from the community. Based on feedback, the agency will move forward with a proposal, obtain environmental compliance under NEPA, and implement a set of management solutions. 

USDA Forest Service Bear Creek Watershed Assessment, March 2013 

View more information about Bear Creek on the Forest Service site here.

RMFI's Role

Rocky Mountain Field Institute is working under the direction of the US Forest Service and Colorado Springs Utilities. RMFI is assisting both land owners with implementing on-the-ground solutions. RMFI does not advocate for or against any specific recreational uses of the watershed. We are working closely with governmental entities and project stakeholders, including Trout Unlimited and Colorado Motorcycle Trail Riders Association, to have a constructive dialogue about the best management course for the watershed that protects the existing ecological resources.

Quarters for Conservation

RMFI is pleased to announce that our work in Bear Creek has been chosen as a Quarters for Conservation project at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo! Q4C is an initiative of the zoo to provide funding in support of wildlife conservation work. By collecting quarters from zoo visitors who choose the project they want to support, the zoo provides funding for projects worldwide. Last year, the zoo raised over $60,000 through the program. RMFI's Bear Creek project is the sole local project this year. YOU can help support Bear Creek by visiting Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and voting with your quarter! Read more about Quarters for Conservation here.

Comments

Corrections and Misconceptions about the Trails in Pike National Forest, both in Bear Creek Watershed and in nearby vicinity.
The public has been misled into believing something further has to be done to protect the Greenback Cutthroat Trout in Bear Creek. This is not true.
Fact:
1. These trout will survive in this creek just the way things are now, with the current existing trails.
Cutthroat Trout have survived in this stream, coexisting with hikers, and equestrians for at least 130 years.
2. The Center for Biological Diversity, an organization which serves as a watchdog for the protection of our natural environment, filed a lawsuit against the USFS. As full settlement of this case, the only further action they recommended was that motorized vehicles be prohibited. This Stipulation was agreed to by both parties to the lawsuit. Therefore, the protector of the environment felt this was sufficient, and clearly stated so in a press release in which they stated this Agreement should not adversely affect any other users, i.e., hikers, equestrians, mountain bikers. Therefore, to state that the current situation of using the trails by these groups is just a short range solution until a long term solution can be worked out is misleading and outright false.
3. Fact, the nature of the trails and the geological nature of the rock, "high erodibility of the soils" is listed as the primary reason for the need for a long term solution, which implies closing and rerouting these trails. This is purely emotionally charged and irrational thinking. The high erodibility of the soils has been this way since the fish were introduced into this stream. The trail was once a road and the primary route up to Pikes Peak. There has been only a decrease in trail usage. The impacts on the fish and stream have already been minimized, with the habitat already having been restored to a "fully functional habitat," as the habitat has not been degraded since the introduction of the trout. They are existing with this balance of man and habitat. There is no valid scientific reason to change this balance.
4. In 2005 the US Federal Register reflects a 5 year study was to be conducted which would determine whether the Trout should be upgraded to an Endangered Species, as opposed to just a "Threatened Species." It was concluded that the species designation was proper and they were not in danger of becoming extinct (endangered species). If anything, their population has grown from 750 to 4,250, a 600% increase in population, a literal population "explosion."
5. The greenback cutthroat trout was documented in texts in the year 2000. They were then "determined" to be in Severy Creek, so that creek was closed off to hikers and other recreational users. Now, we have a third determination, and that is that they only live in this one 3 mile stretch of creek in Colorado.
This "new" revelation, or enlightened discovery, needs to be looked at with a skeptical eye as to the scientific veracity of the findings, based upon all of the other mistaken "facts" about this allegedly pure trout.
Was the discovery, honest, or a falsification? Why only now, at least the third time, we are discovering that the fish in this creek are the only genetically pure fish of this species?
This trout is also native to Utah's streams, and therefore to state that this is the last known remaining trout population in Colorado ignores the fact that they also live in Utah.
6. At the Open House hosted by Congressman Lamborn with the USFS, CSU, Fish & Wildlife, the US Fish & Wildlife spokesperson admitted that they did not keep any census of the trout population in Bear Creek until 2008, at which time it was determined that there were 750 trout residing there. Today there are an estimated 750 trout residing there. Thus, the population in this stream has been stable for the entire 6 years since they have been taking a census of the trout.
7. The population in the Leadville fish hatchery has grown from zero to 3,500 greenbacks during this time, with adults having been taken from Bear Creek. Thus, even with removal of adults from the Creek, the population remains stable. The population in the fish hatchery has skyrocketed.
US Fish and Wildlife could not answer the question as to the ideal or maximum population of these trout in this stream. It clearly is 750. Thus, with the current situation, we have reached an equilibrium with fish population with current usage, which is in accordance with the Stipulated Agreement.
8. These trout were put into this stream devoid of any other fish population by a private entrepreneur for the sole purpose of attracting fisher men so that they could be caught and killed.
9. There is a reason there are no other fish in this stream. It is not a suitable habitat for them because of low and slow stream flow during the summers.
10. It is preposterous to presume there is no other stream in the country that can support this fish. They are not native to it for the reasons already stated, the stream was not made to support any fish as evident that there were none until they were introduced.
11. That the current solutions are short term in nature, requiring sediment traps that must be annually maintained is further evidence that the creek is inhospitable and unsuitable for these trout or any other fish.
12. Any trail will require annual maintenance. The fact that a trail exists permits control of an excess of sediment from being deposited into the creek. Without the trails, the USFS will not monitor the stream nor manage the deposition of sediment. This will result in a population die-off. These fish were not meant to live in this stream.
13. Another more suitable stream/streams need to be found, immediately.
14. Until such time, the trails should remain as they are.
15. The trails and stream should be monitored and maintained for yearly sediment/erosion control, a task that has maintained a stable and healthy population.
16. The Stipulated Agreement should remain in effect, prohibiting motorized usage, but permitting all other uses.
17. To believe there are sufficient funds to close the existing trails, revegetate the areas, cover up all traces of the existing trails and rebuild one new multi-use, long, serpentine, switchback, heavily used trail with no ability to return from one's hike except coming back the same way as one went out, is an unacceptable solution. There are no funds. The Federal non-military budget is shrinking. The trails are closed, allegedly being unsustainable with numerous trail damage being alleged by RMFI, yet the town hall meeting attended by 200 - 300 participants brought out that 93% of the trails are in suitable and safe condition for the contemplated users. With insufficient funding for an unacceptable new trail, the old trails will remain closed while the new trail will never be built.
This is how I see it.

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