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The Rush To Rebuild Flood-Ravaged Roads Has Cost: Colorado Trout

V. Richard Haro
The Coloradoan
Corey Heim, a native aquatic technician for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife, holds a trout with another smaller trout in its mouth as he measures their length at the Big Thompson River Tuesday Sept. 30, 2014.

Colorado officials scrambled to reconnect dozens of destroyed roadways after September's 2013 floods — most notably U.S. Highways 34, 36 and Colorado State Highway 7. That rush to reconstruct had a price, according to a new article in the Fort Collins Coloradoan: Thousands of trout have left the St. Vrain, South St. Vrain the Big Thompson rivers.

Ryan Maye Handy, environmental reporter for the Coloradoan, said post-flood surveys by Colorado Parks and Wildlife show trout numbers decreasing in some places from 5,000 fish per mile to hundreds.

"I met some anglers who cry when they think about the total loss of the St. Vrain which was a beloved fishing spot, and now you really can't fish in it," she said.

Typically road reconstruction requires months of planning and a permitting process takes habitat into consideration. During the rush to rebuild roads ahead of the December 2013 goal Colorado officials had to make difficult choices.

Credit V. Richard Haro / The Coloradoan
The Coloradoan
Assistant biologist, Tory Erye, leads a group of native aquatic technicians in gathering trout at the Big Thompson River in Estes Park Tuesday Sept. 30, 2014. Colorado Parks and Recreation scientist are tasked with restoring the river corridors of the trout population which was decimated with the flood last year.

"They had to move the river back [to where it used to be]. When they did that, they didn't replant the banks of the rivers, they didn't give them natural banks," she said.

In an interview that aired during All Things Considered, Ryan May Handy spoke about what happened to the trout, what can be done to reintroduce them, and the direct impacts of what was done along U.S. 34 and U.S. 36. Handy's full story can be read online at the Coloradoan: "Trout population hit hard by flood restoration."

Interview Highlights

Where did the trout go…

"The trout didn't die. They just moved to where they could be happy. So for instance if you go south of the Olympus Dam [in Estes Park], there's a bunch of trout just below the dam. Admittedly in the areas of the river where there's not much vegetation, there are still a few trout there. There are just nine trout per mile as opposed to a few thousand trout per mile."

… and how do you bring the trout back?

"You bring them back by introducing things that they need to live. You need to build river banks that can support grasses, and you need to allow rivers to meander. So basically they're going to have to rebuild these rivers and make them look and feel natural to fish again."

What plans exist for rebuilding trout habitat on U.S. Highway 34 between Loveland and Estes Park?

"Basically they're going to have to redo a lot of work they did one year ago, and they're going to have pull in perspectives they didn't pull in one year ago. They got permission to do what they did. But now they have to redo it which means they have to listen to the U.S. Forest Service which owns most of the land in the corridor, Colorado Parks and Wildlife which will tell them how you get the fish back."

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