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Arizona’s Apache Trout could be the First Gamefish De-listed from the Endangered Species Act
On August 10th, 2023, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) issued a press release announcing the proposed de-listing of Arizona’s state fish, the Apache trout. The Apache trout and Gila trout are the only two trout species native to the state.
According to the USFWS, the Apache trout is native exclusively to the streams in and around the White Mountains in the eastern part of the state. Historically, they were found only in the headwaters of the White, Black, and Little Colorado Rivers above 5,900 feet elevation in east-central Arizona.
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The Apache trout was originally considered the same species as the Gila trout, which was listed under the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1967. The Apache trout was first described as a unique species in 1972, and one year later, it gained protection under the Endangered Species Act of 19731.
Competition from non-native brook and brown trout and hybridization with non-native rainbow and cutthroat trout threaten Apache trout populations.
The 2009 Apache Trout Recovery Plan identified a goal of 30 pure (non-hybridized) Apache trout populations being necessary for species recovery. The plan also noted 27 populations existing within their historical range in Arizona’s Gila, Apache, and Greenlee counties, and the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.
The USFWS 2021 Apache trout species status assessment identified the recovery goal of 30 pure populations had been met, which prompted the USFWS Endangered Species Act de-listing proposal.
Apache trout recovery is owed to 50 years of collaborative conservation work among state, federal, and nonprofit partners removing introduced trout species and preventing their reestablishment in Apache trout habitats. If de-listed, the Apache trout would add to the list of 91 species that have recovered under the protections of the Endangered Species Act.
Active management would continue to prevent future reintroductions of non-native trout species and hybridization. Additionally, the Endangered Species Act requires the USFWS to implement a post-delisting monitoring plan for a minimum of five years to ensure the species remains stable.
The USFWS de-listing proposal1 is open for public comment through October 9th. Information on how to submit comments is available at www.regulations.gov by searching docket number FWS-R2-ES-2022-0115.
1. Apache Trout De-listing Proposal – Federal Register – Regulations.gov
2. Proposed Delisting of Apache Trout | U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (fws.gov)
3. Apache Trout Recovery – Arizona Game & Fish Department (azgfd.com)
4. Apache Trout (Oncorhynchus apache) – Species Profile (usgs.gov)
5. USFWS 2021 Apache Trout Species Status Assessment (fws.gov)