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USGS Researcher Honored for Helping Managers Save Desert Fish from Extinction
Released: 1/16/2014 3:00:00 PM

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RENO, Nev.Today, the Department of Interior honored U.S. Geological Survey biologist Gary Scoppettone and his colleagues for helping land managers save two species of fish from extinction.  The species of unique desert fish, Cui-ui and Lahontan cutthroat trout, are considered sacred to the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe of Nevada.

USGS biologists are being awarded a 2013 Partners in Conservation Award for their work to recover the full assemblage of fish native to the Truckee watershed in California and Nevada.  Since 1981 USGS scientists under the lead of Gary Scoppettone have worked to provide the science that has allowed the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to recover the endangered and tribally sacred desert fish.  

"The Department of the Interior is proud to recognize the accomplishments of those who are innovating and collaborating in ways that address today's complex conservation and stewardship challenges," Secretary Jewell said at an awards ceremony at the Interior headquarters in Washington today. "These partnerships represent the gold standard for how Interior is doing business across the nation to power our future, strengthen tribal nations, conserve and enhance America’s great outdoors and engage the next generation."

For many generations the giant sucker known as Cui-ui and Lahontan cutthroat trout, Nevada's state fish, thrived in the Truckee watershed of California and Nevada, providing an important food source for local tribes of Paiute Indians. Lahontan cutthroat trout were possibly the largest trout in North America, reaching over 40 pounds. Mark Twain wrote of their delicious flesh and they were prized as sport trophies by celebrities like Clark Gable.

The arrival of settlers in the late 1800s set in motion a cascade of events detrimental to the fish: mining, logging, ranching, dam construction, water diversion for agriculture, pollution from chemicals and sawdust, overfishing and the introduction of non-native Lake Trout. By the 1940s Lahontan cutthroat trout in Pyramid Lake and Lake Tahoe were gone. Cui-ui were listed as federally endangered in 1967, but, with no access to their spawning grounds, only continued to decline as adults aged and died with no opportunity to reproduce. 

USGS science was critical to uncovering restricted access to spawning habitat as the primary cause of Cui-ui decline. Now water is released from dams higher in the watershed to accommodate spawning, and a fish elevator at Marble Bluff dam, a Bureau of Reclamation fish mitigation facility, allows Cui-ui access to the Truckee River.   

Independence Lake harbors one of the last two self-sustaining lake populations of Lahontan cutthroat trout in the Truckee River Watershed that have not gone extinct. Since recovery efforts began in 1997 the average annual survival of Lahontan cutthroat trout in Independence Lake has almost tripled.  During that time USGS has worked with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy, Truckee Meadows Water Authority, Truckee River Watershed Council, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service and other partners to restore the engendered fish.

Today many stakeholders value the Truckee River Watershed for different, yet compatible, reasons, including as habitat for threatened, endangered and sacred species; as a source of clean drinking water for Reno, Sparks, and nearby communities; and as a beloved site for fishing, hiking and camping.

The Partners in Conservation Awards recognize outstanding examples of conservation legacies achieved when the Department of the Interior engages groups and individuals representing a wide range of backgrounds, ages and interests to work collaboratively to renew lands and resources. At the annual awards ceremony, the Department of the Interior celebrated conservation achievements that highlight cooperation among diverse federal, state, local and tribal governments; public and private entities; non-profit organizations; and individuals.

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