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What we know right now about fish caught in the fire

Blog by: Bill Prater , Colorado 10/22/2020
It’s far too early to begin assessing the extent of damage to the outdoors of northern Colorado, and probably unhelpful to our collective state of mind. But there is news to report on our northern fisheries, not all of it bleak. Thanks to our friends with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, here are a few things we now know with some certainty.

Riley Morris, Hatchery Chief for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s two hatcheries on the Cache La Poudre River, reports that the Poudre Rearing Unit, located in Poudre Canyon about 55 miles northwest of Fort Collins, was evacuated before the Cameron Peak fire reached it in the early days of that fire. Thanks to firefighters and CPW staff, no fish or hatchery facilities were lost in the fire. However, the Hatchery relies on Poudre River surface water for it's raceway water supply, Riley says. “Meaningful precipitation events after the Cameron Peak Fire will inevitably result in an ash-filled "slurry" coming down the drainage which would be fatal to fish at the facility. Therefore, all the fish in the raceways at the Poudre facility were stocked into Carter Lake while CPW staff still had access. 

There were not tremendous numbers of fish stocked, Riley says, but many were larger than the 10-inch average fish CPW normally stocks as catchables.
  
The Poudre hatchery’s bigger sister, the Bellvue-Watson hatchery just west of Fort Collins, has so far been untouched by fire, and its water supply from the Poudre “is fine for the time being, but the staff there will be monitoring the post-fire water quality situation on the Poudre River and will develop a contingency plan in case they need to evacuate the trout from the facility quickly,” Riley says. 
 
(On that note, some smaller stockings of trout along the Front Range was suspended because of the coronavirus this year. Fish usually stocked for special events like the spring Loveland Police Kids Derby in the Loveland Duck Pond and the Loveland Fishing  Club’s annual fall derby for assisted living center residents at Flatiron Reservoir. Riley says most other stocking has followed a normal schedule.)

(My thanks, by the way, to Jason Clay, CPW Public Information Officer for the Northeast Region, for his help with this article) 

Jason told KDVR News recently that we should prepare for long-term impacts to water as vegetation and soil are scorched and the ash is deposited in rivers and streams. “A lot of that ash will get into the water and can change the pH levels,” he said. 

For most of us not involved in fighting fires or saving hatcheries, all we can do right now about lakes, ponds and streams in burned-out areas is worry. But previous fires offer grim evidence of what we can expect. The fish population in the Animas River, a Gold Medal fishery in southwest Colorado, for example, suffered a massive loss from the “416 Fire” there in June 2018. A year later the fish population there was reportedly down about 80 percent, after that wildlife scorched about 54,000 acres of the Hermosa Creek watershed, and heavy rain afterwards led to a runoff filled with ash that suffocated fish in the river.  

In the same gloomy vein, in Utah ash runoff in 2018 killed darn near every brown trout in that state’s popular Wild Strawberry River. Utah fisheries said it would take three- to five years to recover. 

Here in Colorado, the rain that will inevitably cause so much ash runoff can help later on by flushing that ash from our waters. But we’re also in the midst of a drought. 

So first we need some rain or snow in the high country to help our firefighters. As we’ve heard from the Fort Collins Coloradoan’s environmental reporter, Jacy Marmaduke: “The coming weeks and months will bring more news about what the Cameron Peak Fire will mean for the Poudre River. Until then, some staff of the agencies that monitor the river are in a similar position to the rest of us: Stuck in an anxious waiting game as the blaze continues, temperatures warm up and many details about the fire remain obscured in the ever-present haze. 

You might also think about the bright side:  you needn’t worry as much about the impact of all this on our drinking water if you stick to drinking beer...Stay calm, and stay safe.

For a map showing state fish hatcheries, follow this link:

Blog content © Bill Prater
Blog Comments
Matt, CO   10/22/2020 1:55:21 PM
Thanks for looking into this Bill, I look forward to finding out more as time goes on. Another topic that will also become prominent for anglers is the limitation of access for recreation once the roads open and fires die out. I assume the aftermath of these fires will leave many places deemed unsafe for a while.
 
Jonny_two_shoes, CO   10/27/2020 3:14:00 AM
Bill thanks for the update. My gf and I recently got into fishing and were worried about the effects the fires would have on all these amazing fish. Hoping for the best outcome.