Located along the eastern flank of the Pikes Peak Massif and just west of Colorado Springs, Bear Creek holds one of the only remaining pure populations of greenback cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki stomias), Colorado’s state fish. The Bear Creek Watershed encompasses lands administered by the City of Colorado Springs, the United States Forest Service (USFS), and El Paso County and is extremely important for its recreational opportunities, its value as a water source, and as vital habitat for the greenback cutthroat trout.
Bear Creek is a high gradient, cold-water stream located 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 vital population, it is important to restore the limited habitat to fully functional condition. Testing in 2012 revealed that approximately 750 adult fish remain, representing the last remaining genetically pure population of the species. The population is currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is undergoing an evaluation process to determine if the species should be listed as endangered.
In order to better manage the trout’s habitat, the USFS initiated an Environmental Assessment (EA), a documentation process that falls underneath the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). After extensive review of the environmental impacts, public comments, and scientific information that were included in the EA, the USFS issued their draft decision in July of 2015. The final decision notice— Finding of No Significant Impact—was signed in June of 2016, allowing on-the-ground habitat protection work to commence.
RMFI has been involved in habitat improvement projects in the Bear Creek Watershed since 2009, constructing sediment detention structures (SDS) and erosion control structures, along with completing high priority trail work. The structures installed capture sediment before it reaches the stream. Since the NEPA process began, RMFI has focused on maintenance of these structures and other short and mid-term stream protection activities designed to protect the trout population.
In 2012, RMFI was awarded a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Water Supply Reserve Account to improve the aquatic habitat for the greenback cutthroat trout, and enhance watershed health and function by reducing sediment transport from High Drive into Bear Creek. Since that time, RMFI has worked with the City of Colorado Springs and the USFS, among others, to evaluate the maintenance needs of the stream corridor along High Drive. High Drive is an unpaved, gravel road adjacent to the stream and is a known source of sediment. The Bear Creek Watershed geology consists of highly erosive decomposed granite, further enabling natural erosion and that caused by the presence of the soft-surface High Drive. In 2014, the road was converted to allow for administrative use only for motorized traffic. However, the road remains a very popular thoroughfare for users accessing trails on City property and within the Pike National Forest.
Many objectives of the project were delayed to 2017 due to three primary reasons. One, work related to the protection of fish habitat could not commence until the NEPA decision was finalized, which occurred in June of 2016. Two, seasonal work restrictions are in place to best protect the fish’s habitat during breeding. And lastly, historic storm events in 2013 and again in 2015 led to revisions in the implementation plan. After both storm events event, the City of Colorado Springs received FEMA Public Assistance grants to repair damaged sections of High Drive. The mitigation work was scheduled to be completed in fall of 2015, however a second storm event delayed the work a second time. The project is scheduled to be completed during the 2018 field season.
Despite the delays in many of the tasks included in the Project, RMFI was able to initiate hand-crew work in the High Drive corridor in 2016. This work focused on Task #1—High Drive Sediment Abatement—as identified in Phase 1 of the Bear Creek Sediment Mitigation Project. The bulk of the work in 2016-17 focused on four primary tasks: 1) closure of rogue trails leading from the High Drive to Bear Creek, 2) the closure of the old Section 16/Palmer Trail junction with High Drive, 3) restoring of proper drainage flow to various culverts along the road, and 4) the closure and restoration of an area near “Bridge 4” where High Drive intersects with Bear Creek.
2018 WORK FOCUS
Drainage improvements, sediment control, narrowing of High Drive, reseeding and revegetation, and closure of major erosion gullies.
PROJECT PARTNERS AND FUNDERS
- Bear Creek Roundtable Members
- City of Colorado Springs
- Colorado Water Conservation Board