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.
Bear Creek

BACKGROUND

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, El Paso County, 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, U.S. Forest Service, El Paso County, 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 U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Springs Utilities, El Paso County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in this watershed since 2009 and is an active member of the Bear Creek Roundtable. This group is comprised of a diverse set of stakeholders who meet quarterly to discuss critical management issues within the watershed. 

The U.S. Forest Service recently completed an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Bear Creek Watershed as a requirement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). After a public comment period, the U.S. Forest Service released their draft decision and "Finding of No Significant Impact" (FONSI) on July 17, 2015, which detailed their selection of Alternative B, the Proposed Action for implementation, as well as their determination that a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement was not warranted. To read all documents associated with the project including the EA and FONSI, please click here.  

In summary, Alternative B proposes implementing in-stream and upland restoration techniques to protect aquatic species and enhance riparian habitat and watershed health; conducting maintenance, reconstruction, and storm water drainage improvements on existing trails to minimize erosion risk and sediment production; building new trails and/or rerouting trails using proven trail construction standards and techniques; converting some non-system trails into National Forest System trails; closing and restoring all non-system routes within the watershed; and increasing education through installation of interpretive signage. In essence, this decision attempts to balance the needs of the fish with recreational use in the watershed.

WORK OBJECTIVES

RMFI's initial work in the watershed between 2009-2015 focused on short-term, immediate projects to reduce the amount of sediment transported from the trail to Bear Creek. 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. 

RMFI also completed watershed trails assessments in 2012, 2013, and 2015. The assessments analyzed current conditions of the watershed, including recreation, access, cultural resources, aquatic life, and wildlife, as well as evaluated trail conditions and key hotspot areas contributing excessive sediment to Bear Creek. The documents provide guidance for future management decisions within the watershed. 

As we near the implementation phase of the NEPA decision, RMFI's role will be to continue working with project partners and land management agencies to implement actions identified in Altnerative B. Implementation of all actions will take several years. To read RMFI's final project report detailing our work in the watershed in 2015, please click here

2016 WORK FOCUS

  • Close and restore ~1 mile of social trails paralleling Trail #666; build ~0.5 mile new Buckhorn Connector Trail.

PROJECT PARTNERS AND FUNDERS

  • Bear Creek Roundtable Members
  • Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • Colorado Parks and Wildlfie
  • Colorado Springs Utilities
  • Colorado Water Conservation Board
  • El Paso County
  • U.S. Forest Service