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Risk assessment for bull trout introduction into Sullivan Lake and Harvey Creek, northeastern Washington

May 3, 2022

The Kalispel Tribe of Indians (KT), U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are engaged in conservation of bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) in the Lake Pend Oreille (LPO) Core Area. The LPO is a complex habitat core area which falls within three states (Montana, Idaho, and Washington) and a tribal entity. As part of the conservation process, KT worked in cooperation with the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) to complete a risk assessment for introduction of bull trout into Sullivan Lake/Harvey Creek, northeastern, Washington. The risk assessment was designed to evaluate potential risks to resident fish species, to bull trout introduced into Sullivan Lake, and to bull trout donor source populations. This risk assessment describes the potential risks associated with pathogens (introduction of pathogens and increased pathogen burden), genetics (such as risk to donor sources, straying and breeding with native bull trout, and introduction of bull-brook hybrids), and ecological interactions (such as predation and competition). Potential donor source populations were identified and evaluated using a qualitative approach based on expert opinion and a decision framework.

Literature reviews were completed for fish species composition and abundance in Sullivan Lake basin to assess potential ecological interactions and risks to these populations and to the introduced bull trout. The USGS assessed pathogen risks through two major questions: (1) whether introduced bull trout might bring pathogens into the Sullivan Lake basin that were not previously present and (2) whether the health of introduced bull trout could be adversely affected by pathogens already present in the basin. Assessment of genetic risks included demographic risks to donor source populations, potential for hybridization with native bull trout, and the risk of introducing bull-brook hybrids. Literature reviews were used in conjunction with discussions among regional biologists to identify potential donor source populations and their population attributes. A decision framework was developed by USGS in collaboration with KT biologists that identified desirable population attributes (life history behavior, abundance, population viability, feasibility of collection, and environmental match) associated with donor source populations and established ranking criteria. The population attribute information was used with the (1) decision framework, (2) established ranking criteria, and (3) expert opinion of regional biologists, to assign scores for overall ranking of donor source populations.

The LPO source population was the highest ranked and is considered a robust and stable population. The risk of introducing pathogens from LPO into Sullivan Lake via a bull trout introduction program seems low, and indirect pathogen burden risks to resident species can be mitigated using established pathogen surveillance methods. The likelihood that bull trout, introduced into Sullivan Lake, stray and spawn with native bull trout is low. Nearest-neighbor donor source populations, such as LPO, could minimize negative fitness impacts that might occur from straying and interbreeding of individuals that become entrained and help maintain natural patterns of genetic diversity in native populations. The ecological risk that a bull trout introduction presents to resident species seems to be low but with some uncertainty. Pygmy whitefish, a Washington State Sensitive species, is likely most vulnerable to extirpation with increased predation pressure with introduction of an additional piscivore into the ecosystem. The status of the pygmy whitefish in Sullivan Lake is unknown. The ecological risks most likely to reduce the viability of introduced bull trout are predation by burbot and an adequate forage base in Sullivan Lake. Prior fish surveys provided data on resident species abundance, provided an established baseline for effective monitoring, and identifying ecosystem changes post-bull trout introduction to inform future adaptive management decisions.

Publication Year 2022
Title Risk assessment for bull trout introduction into Sullivan Lake and Harvey Creek, northeastern Washington
DOI 10.3133/ofr20221032
Authors Jill M. Hardiman, Rachel B. Breyta, Carl O. Ostberg
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2022-1032
Index ID ofr20221032
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Fisheries Research Center