Wildfire Ash Kills Trout Population

May 10, 2019

 The ash run-off from the Dollar Ridge fire last summer has killed all the brown trout in the Wild Strawberry River. Experts say it could take three to five-years to recover. It hasn’t been decided if they’ll reintroduce the brown trout back into the popular fishery.

DWR Aquatics Section Chief, Drew Cushing says the Dollar Ridge fire burned so hot, there is nothing there to hold the soil in place. The Habitat Conservation group seeded areas last fall, but the plants aren’t mature enough to contain the ash run off.

“Whenever it rains in the spring when the snow melts, that ash and muck and mud is going to wash down into the river channel and create more problems with the fishery and the stream itself.

Cushing says the Strawberry was very popular with anglers because the brown trout is such a fighter and people love the sport of it.

“You know, it’s part of nature. It’s really not a good thing for our anglers.  You know, the Strawberry River was a really productive brown trout fishery and given time, it’ll be that again.”

There may be some brown trout up higher in Timber Canyon but lower down they were killed off from the ash and debris flows.

“We actually did some cutthroat restoration up there. And, there were Colorado River Cutthroat trout up high in Timber Canyon. And those fish are probably still ok but the brown trout fishery that everybody came to love, which is that lower stretch, down through the Pinnacles on the Strawberry River, that one is fishless and probably will be for several years.”

Cushing says with the Strawberry fishless, there are other options for those anglers who want to fish for the brown trout.

“You know, like the Provo River and Green River are really good brown trout fisheries as well.  And, the Strawberry River was smaller, but it had that quality of fish.  It had some really nice brown trout in it.  And, it was really popular with anglers and we are really sad to lose it. It’ll come back. It’ll just take some years to recover and it talks a lot of hard work on our behalf and our habitat folks to heal those fires.”

Brown trout are not native to Utah and Cushing says since the stream is now empty, they have to talk about how they want to bring back the fishery once things stabilize.

“It was a really popular brown trout fishery and we have to ask ourselves is that what us and the anglers want long term?  Is it cutthroat, because cutthroat in Timber Canyon up there, are something that was here before the settlers were here?

Cushing says his aquatics crew will begin river channel repair once the habitat is more stable. He says the ash and fire debris run off can also impact the algal bloom in Starvation Reservoir and they’ll be watching that closely.

A slide show of the damage to the Wild Strawberry River is posted with this story on KPCW.org.