The Virgin River Program operates primarily within the state of Utah along the Virgin River and its tributaries in Washington County. Activities are being conducted for species in different locations. Woundfin, Virgin River chub, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, flannelmouth sucker, desert sucker, speckled dace, and Virgin spinedace are all found in or near the mainstem Virgin River below Pah Tempe hot springs. Tributaries of the Virgin and those areas above Pah Tempe have different species assemblages. Recently, efforts have centered around the area on the Santa Clara and Virgin rivers impacted by the flooding of December 2010.
Red shiner eradication
Red shiner are a nonnative fish species that prey upon and compete with the six native fish species. It has been found that native fish cannot survive in the presence of these nonnative fishes. Eradication occurred annually prior to 2008 and was successful in removing red shiner from the Virgin River down to the Stateline Fish Barrier. However, following the floods in December 2010, red shiner have re-invaded and will have to be removed once again. In October 2011, the Virgin River Program and its partners removed red shiner and new species to the Virgin Basin in Utah, fathead minnow, from the Virgin and Santa Clara rivers. Large sampling efforts will be necessary this spring to determine effectiveness.
Hatchery production and stocking of woundfin and Virgin River chub
In order to aid recovery efforts, fish produced from Dexter National Fish Hatchery and Technology Center have been stocked into the Virgin River and select off-channel sites (ponds). Since 2003, approximately 58,500 woundfin have been stocked into the Virgin River while approximately 19,000 Virgin River chub were stocked into the Virgin River during that same period. The stocked fish have been market with VIE (Visual Implant Elastomer) or coded wire tags. In October of 2008, the largest number of woundfin were stocked into the Virgin River. Approximately 28,000 VIE marked woudnfin were stocked into the river, from Confluence Park near La Verkin and Hurricane, down to Wal-Mart in Bloomington. All fish are being monitored by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR). Currently the fish used for stocking have come from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Dexter National Fish Hatchery and Technology Center in Dexter, New Mexico and the State of Utah’s Wahweap State Fish Hatchery, in Big Water, Utah. Research intended to help maximize growth and survival of hatchery reared fishes is being conducted for the Program at the USFWS’s Bozeman National Fish Technology Center in Bozeman, Montana. Please see our Newsletters for more information on these three facilities.
The Program is constantly trying to learn more about the fish and how they react to change within their environment. These changes may be related to flow, turbidity, temperature, or interactions with other species. If a question arises, the Program will fund studies to determine how best to address the question or problem. Current research is ongoing to determine the effects of fire runoff on the native fish populations as well as helping to enhance our hatcheries.
Population monitoring is conducted by the UDWR to determine the status of populations as well as the effects of various natural and/or human caused alterations to the river and its inhabitants. Monitoring occurs on a variety of levels from full passes, to monthly sampling of five “population monitoring” stations located in representative reaches of the river. Annual monitoring of 10 sites between Pah Tempe and Lake Mead comprises the Virgin River Fishes Recovery team sampling. This sampling has been accomplished since 1976 in both spring and fall and is designed specifically for tracking trends in woundfin populations.
St. George Washington Fields Diversion
Since the late 1800’s, the St. George Washington Fields Canal Company has been diverting water from the Virgin River for agricultural needs. Due to the rights of the canal company, to take all of the water in the river at river levels bellows 86 cfs, this occasionally meant that endangered fish would be pulled into the canal where they would perish. In order to prevent this ongoing problem, the Program worked with the Canal Company and the Washington County Water Conservancy District to install 5 moving screens on the canal. These screens prevent fish from going into the canal. The screens also serve to keep debris out of the water entering the canal, which enabled the piping of the canal to occur for water savings and closure of the open canal.