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 drain to allow water to cross the trail without collecting sediment

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.

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