Elk River Cutthroat Trout Research Initiative

Westslope cutthroat trout (WCT) are a species of great ecological, social and economic importance in the Elk River Watershed. The Elk River and its tributaries act as a stronghold for the species, supporting one of the few remaining genetically pure WCT populations in BC. However, WCT are federally and provincially listed as a species of ‘special concern’ and may become threatened or endangered if threats are not addressed. A report by the BC Ministry of the Environment (MOE) in 2014, indicated that the Elk River watershed “faces some unique threats such as degraded water quality from coal mining, riparian clearing due to industrial and community development and increased angling pressure.” All of these human impacts added together could result in a negative impact on WCT. MOE also noted in 2014 that there are gaps in our knowledge about WCT, citing few studies on the Elk River population estimates and data regarding key habitat locations and restoration priorities. Without this information it is difficult to determine the impact of human threats, manage the population effectively or implement projects that could enhance fish habitat.

Spurred on by this gap in understanding, the Elk River Alliance (ERA) is attempting to fill some of these existing knowledge gaps in WCT research through their WCT Research Initiative. The objectives for this project will address concerns surrounding the WCT population in the Elk River watershed through WCT habitat identification, comprehensive evaluations of restoration opportunities, and the communication of easy-to-understand, current WCT information. By addressing these gaps, fisheries managers, industry and community members will be better able to actively work towards reducing threats and ensuring a sustainable and healthy WCT population. The methods for the project include: conducting redd surveys and data syntheses to detect and map important spawning and rearing habitat; communicating with key members of industry, government and community to help establish restoration priorities; Assessing degraded WCT habitat to determine restoration opportunities and develop restoration plans for high priority sites; and holding workshops and developing online and print communication materials to increase local community awareness, engagement and knowledge about WCT health, habitat and threats to the population. 

Additional Information
  • To learn more about WCT in the Elk Valley, including: species information, life history forms, habitat preference, and threats facing the population, click here. 
  • To learn more about the WCT Life Cycle, click here.
  • To learn about how to identify a WCT redd (or nest), click here.
  • To learn about what YOU can do to help protect WCT during spawning season, click here. 
  • To learn about ERA's WCT Research Initiative 2019/2020 results, click here.