Why Be Concerned about Native Fish Communities?
The presence of native fish communities in southwestern Wyoming’s streams indicate good water quality. Keeping this fish, community intact supports the overall health of streams and entire watersheds. Important species that are part of this community include, the Colorado River cutthroat trout--a highly valued sport fish that brings revenue to local economies; the mottled sculpin which serves an important role as trout prey; and the mountain sucker, a species that helps to clear algae from streambeds. Effects of oil and natural gas development on fish habitats and communities are a significant concern in southwestern Wyoming, but little science has been conducted to identify and quantify potential effects. Suspected effects include: loss of vegetation cover; pollution from oil and gas spills; and high levels of sediments and salts that erode from denuded slopes or run off from roads and into nearby streams. An understanding of how energy development can affect aquatic habitat and fish will help land managers determine appropriate development levels and prioritize species or areas where monitoring and protection measures might be appropriate.
USGS ecologists and students with the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Studies Unit at the University of Wyoming have been studying native coldwater fish communities in the WLCI region. We compared native fish communities in streams experiencing a range of oil and gas development. Our goals were 1) to determine the effects of oil and gas development on water quality, habitat quality, and fish, 2) to evaluate potential mechanisms through which oil and gas development can affect fish, and 2) to assess physiological and immunological effects of oil and gas development for fish. These correspond to WLCI’s management needs to: 1) identify condition and distribution of key wildlife species/habitats, and species habitat requirements, and 2) evaluate wildlife and livestock responses to development.