The Dolores River Anglers Chapter of Trout Unlimited has received an Exemplary Project Award for a long-term climate change study on the Upper Dolores River.
The chapter, in cooperation with the Mountain Studies Institute of Silverton, overlaid 72 climate models to tease out potential impacts on 46 trout streams in the watershed up to year 2100.
“It was a surprise and a real honor to be recognized by the award,” said Duncan Rose, conservation chair for Dolores River Anglers. “The study is a part of our long-term effort to try and figure out climate change impacts on our home river so we can better manage the resource.”
David Nickum, executive director for Colorado Trout Unlimited, which presented the award, said the goal is to try and replicate the Dolores climate study for rivers in the other 23 chapters of the state.
“They were the pathfinders who tackled this issue first,” Nickum said. “We really admired the ambition and innovation of their project, and hope it will serve as an example for other chapters.”
The three-year study, titled “Climate Change and the Upper Dolores Watershed, a Cold Water Fishery Adaptive Management Strategy” was released in December.
Climate models from the study indicate there will likely be a reduction in the 295 miles of trout streams in the upper Dolores Basin in the next 50 to 100 years. More of the fishing spots will be concentrated in the higher elevations, which would result in more people fishing in a smaller area.
“There will be more competition for fewer fish, but the good news is it will not happen overnight,” Rose said. “We have time to adapt, as long as we are aware of the potential impacts.”
Some streams, especially at lower elevations, might be lost causes to fish habitat, becoming intermittent or vanishing entirely.
But the study found that other middle- and high-elevation streams could be made more resilient against the worst impacts of climate change through adaptive strategies such as habitat restoration, improving in-stream structure such as boulders and pools to create cooler refuge areas for trout, and restoring streamside vegetation to provide more shade.
The study stood out, Nickum said, because it took the complicated topic of climate change and brought it down to a local level.
“It looked at what the science is telling us on a specific watershed, and gives us guidance on best management,” he said. “It allows us to focus on ways to make fishery strongholds resilient in the face of a changing climate.”
This summer, the Dolores chapter of Trout Unlimited will install eight temperature gauges on various streams and rivers at different elevations to start monitoring changes and trends.
The Dolores River climate change study cost about $20,000 with $15,000 paid for by the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Groups including Trout Unlimited, Southwestern Water Conservation District and the Montezuma Land Conservancy contributed funds as well. A PowerPoint of the Dolores River climate study can be seen here.