Utah wildfire sparks effort to save hundreds of local fish

Utah wildfire sparks effort to save hundreds of local fish

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Wildlife officials worried that sediment spewed from a southern Utah wildfire could poison and destroy a native fishery have rescued and relocated 400 local fish to a hatchery, in a glimpse of the sweeping impact wildfires have on the state.

Damage done by the fire could kill thousands of fish and make a fork of Ash Creek, in the Pine Valley Mountains, uninhabitable for two years, officials with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources told The Salt Lake Tribune .

This week, crews used an electric shocking device to stun Bonneville cutthroat trout in the creek and gather them in buckets. From there, the fish were taken roughly 200 miles (321 kilometers) away to a state hatchery in Loa.

The trout will remain at the hatchery until it’s safe to return them to Ash Creek.

“That will ensure there are no disease problems, and hopefully in a year we can come back, maybe two years,” said Richard Hepworth, a fisheries biologist with the Division of Wildlife Resources. “We have to see what happens with the fire. The flooding following the fires are really the biggest problem for fish.”

Bonneville cutthroat trout are recognized as Utah’s state fish and are under pressure from other species, including other variants of trout.

To prevent them from being listed as endangered, Utah officials have stocked them in many streams previously populated by other species.

The cutthroat in Ash Creek are considered critical to the species’ survival and are genetically suited for Pine Valley Mountain streams.

Wildfires in recent years have killed trout along more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) of Utah streams, pointing to the fire’s long-lasting effects on local wildlife.

The current fire has grown to more than 18 square miles (46 square kilometers) since it was sparked by an abandoned campfire two weeks ago.

The fire is more than 50 percent contained and its growth has largely stalled, officials said. It has not destroyed any structures other than a little-known historic cabin.