Management Recommendations: Populations in the native watersheds have persisted only because of cooperative interventions by fish managers in the California Department of Fish and Game, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and US Forest Service. Ever since it was realized in 1968 that California golden trout in the South Fork Kern River were being threatened by alien trout, mainly brown trout, major efforts have been made to create refuges for golden trout in the upper reaches of the South Fork Kern River by constructing three barriers (Ramshaw, Templeton, Schaeffer) and then applying rotenone and antimycin to kill all unwanted fish above or between the barriers. From 1969 through 2000, 10 treatments were carried out, with varying degrees of success (Stephens et al. 2004). In addition, gill netting of selected headwater lakes (e.g. Chicken Spring Lake, Rocky Basin lakes) to remove hybridized fish has been successful and these lakes are now fishless. Despite these efforts, most populations of California golden trout are hybridized and are under continual threat from brown and rainbow trout invasions. Thus a focus of conservation should be protection of the original gene pools of golden trout in Golden Trout Creek and South Fork Kern River as (1) a source for future fish transplants into restored streams, (2) stocks that can be genetically compared with introduced populations, and (3) an aesthetic measure.
Major reasons why efforts to protect the golden trout have been inadequate are shortage of funding for fisheries management agencies and perhaps full realization of the threats facing Californias state fish. Implementation of the recovery plan for California golden trout could reduce the threat of extinction through management of hybrids, multiple barriers (redundancy in case one fails), improved management of the watersheds, and elimination of non-native trout populations (S. Stephens et al. 2004). The Conservation Strategy (Stephens et al. 2004), however, has not been fully implemented, although several key goals of this document have been met. These include the replacement of two failing fish barriers and the increase in genetic research to better understand the current status and distribution of the California golden trout in this watershed. An additional downstream barrier, in a remote location, is being planned. Two of the four grazing allotments are being rested for ten years. Despite these positive steps, much more needs to be done, as indicated by S. Stephens et al. (1995) and Sims and McGuire (2006). Additional management actions needed include (1) repair or replacement of barriers, (2) eradication of all rainbow trout and brown trout populations that threaten California golden trout, (3) greatly improved management of livestock grazing (preferably elimination of grazing altogether), and (4) improved management of recreation to reduce impacts on the trout.
Barrier improvement. Barriers to prevent alien trout from invading golden trout waters are important, if ultimately short-term, management measures. Templeton and Schaefer barriers were replaced with major concrete structures in 1996 and 2003 respectively, and have reduced the probability of unwanted invasions. However, because accessible barriers that have golden trout on one side and brown trout on the other are inherently flawed (by the ease of moving fish over the barrier), other solutions must be found. D. Christensen and S. J. Stephens suggested (pers. comm. 1995) that "It would seem appropriate to construct a bedrock barrier downstream of Monache Meadows in the gorge area or even further downstream in the drainage, and extend the [California golden trout] population. This would provide a permanent barrier with a great deal less public access." Such a structure is in the early planning stages about 10 km upstream of Kennedy Meadows. Whether such a structure will ever be built in a Wilderness Area is unclear (S. Stephens, pers. comm. 2008).
Eradication of aliens. Eradication of non-native trout continues to be a necessary measure. Aliens must be eliminated as soon as they are detected, anywhere in the watershed, including hybrid fish from headwater lakes. Unfortunately, such eradication generally requires the use of the controversial piscicide, rotenone. Alternate toxins (e.g., antimycin) have yet to be approved in California so are unavailable for use. Given the controversial nature of the use of poisons, a thorough risk analysis should be conducted for streams for which their use is contemplated which involves risks entailed if they are not used, as well as if they are used.
Use of genetic techniques. Increased use of new genetic techniques is needed to allow for genetics-based management. Thus, the best management approach in the Golden Trout Creek watershed (now that introgressed trout have been removed from headwater lakes) is to simply monitor the levels of introgression every five years for change. No other management action is recommended for this population. The Volcano Creek population needs to be reevaluated to determine if they are genetically bottlenecked. Establishment of refuge populations elsewhere for these trout should be considered. All trout in the South Fork Kern River are introgressed with non-native rainbow trout. It appears the golden trout in GTC and the South Fork Kern River are slightly different genetically (Stephens 2007) and they should be managed as separate populations (Stephens et al. 2004; Stephens 2007). Efforts should proceed with a new fish barrier at Dutch John Flat, if possible. Once that barrier is in place, then a decision needs to be made as to which California golden trout population on the South Fork Kern River best genetically represents this subspecies. Once a decision is made, unwanted populations would have to be systematically eliminated and replaced with the selected California golden trout from the South fork Kern River.
Elimination of grazing. Elimination of livestock grazing in the Golden Trout Wilderness Area is needed because it would result in rapid recovery of riparian areas and stream channels and protection not only of golden trout but of other endemic organisms in the Upper Kern basin. If complete elimination is deemed undesirable, then intense management of grazing to reduce impacts on streams should be instituted, including the use of allotment rotation and more use of cowboys to keep cows away from streams. Monitoring needs to occur to document that grazing practices are in compliance with appropriate Forest Service guidelines.
Recreation management. Improvement of recreation management is needed, which basically means better enforcement of existing laws and better education of the public. One step would be to manage only for catch-and-release fishing for wild trout in the entire upper Kern basin above Isabella Reservoir, as a way of reducing transport of fish above barriers and emphasizing the importance of maintaining native trout populations. The stocking of hatchery trout, including triploid rainbow trout, in the South Fork Kern River should be phased out, in combination with a major re-education program for anglers. Another step in recreation management is to allow low-impact recreation only (e.g. eliminate off-road vehicles from areas where they are currently permitted).
Integrated management. Annual monitoring of the native populations, now accomplished by CDFG (Carmona-Catot and Weaver 2006), should continue in order to determine population status and to look for presence of non-native trout. Two kinds of refuges should be established for managing California golden trout: (1) streams containing unhybridized populations and (2) streams containing populations with low levels of hybridization (S. Stephens et al. 2004). Defensible streams that do not meet these criteria should be converted to one or the other type of refuge as soon as possible. This type of very intense management requires rapid, annual genetic assessments of refuge populations.
For additional more specific measures, see Stephens et al. (2004) and Sims and McGuire (2006).
A major boost for golden trout conservation has been the establishment of the Edison Trust Fund in 1996 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as part of the relicensing of the Southern California Edison Company Kern River No. 3 Hydroelectric Project. The Trust Fund should produce about $200,000 per year to be used for implementation of the Upper Kern Basin Fishery Management Plan (Stephens et al. 1995), restoration of Kern River rainbow trout, and other improvements to fisheries in the upper Kern basin. The most immediate benefit for California golden trout has been funding a study on the genetics of all populations, to guide management.