For years STEP volunteers have trapped wild steelhead in urban areas of the Rogue Valley’s Bear Creek tributaries. During that time, it became apparent that juvenile steelhead rely on the smallest seasonal streams as refuge during high water events. What hasn’t been known is how far they travel within the watershed.
In attempt to get answers to that question, Rogue area STEP biologist Ryan Battleson and area volunteers began fin clipping juveniles caught in traps. Now when young fish are captured again in another stream survey trap, the STEP team will have a better idea of where the steelhead hideout and how far they travel within the basin.
Trapping began in 2005 in 34 Rogue Basin streams, including 11 Bear Creek Tributaries. Results exceeded expectations from the onset. Young steelhead were caught in every trap that was placed, including five streams that were thought to be fishless.
“This is the simplest way of doing a mark and recapture,” Battleson says. “For a species like this, it’s hard to get your arms around them without it. What we’ve been able to show through the data is that even the smallest, shortest streams provide key refuges for wild steelhead.”
Surveys so far have been kept to Wagner Creek and an unnamed seasonal stream in Phoenix’s Blue Heron Park. 34 steelhead were captured and fin clipped in the small creek, and seven of them were later recaptured. In Wagner Creek, 36 were captured and fin clipped, with six being recaptured.
The project hopes to expand to institute broader surveying in Bear Creek tributaries by using color-coded tags to indicate where the steelhead were originally captured. Eventually Battleson would like to use digital transmitters to track juvenile steelhead movements in real-time in the urban Rogue Valley.
“Digital transmitters could provide an amazing about of information to reveal what kind of habitat steelhead prefer and how far reaching it is,” said Battleson. “Bear Creek is a perfect watershed that type of project.”