The Bonneville cutthroat trout is the only trout native to Great Basin National Park and East Central Nevada. Ancestors of the current Bonneville cutthroat trout were abundant in ancient Lake Bonneville 16,000 to 18,000 years ago, the remenent of what is now the Great Salt Lake in Utah.. The Snake Valley was only a small arm of this enormous lake. With the end of the ice age, the climate in the Great Basin slowly warmed and dried. As the lake slowly shrank down to the size of the current Great Salt Lake and increased in salinity, the fish took refuge in the streams of the bordering mountain ranges.
Unfortunately Bonneville cutthroat trout were extirpated from their ancestral waters within Great Basin National Park largely as a result of two factors: stocking of nonnative fish and habitat degradation from human activities.
Most of the streams on the eastern side of the South Snake Range had healthy populations of Bonneville cutthroat trout at the time the settlers arrived. They transplanted Bonneville cutthroat trout from steams on the east side to fishless streams on the west side of the mountain range as a source of food. Decades later, other fish species were transported to the South Snake Range and planted in the mountain lakes and streams. Indiscriminate and widespread stocking of nonnative Lahonton cutthroat, rainbow, brook and brown trout introduced overwhelming competition for food and other resources. In addition, rainbow trout interbreed with native cutthroats and reduce species purity. Tens of thousands of nonnative trout were stocked into streams of the South Snake Range before designation of Great Basin National Park.
Water diversions, mining, and domestic livestock grazing significantly altered the streams by reducing streamflows, increasing sediment, and decreasing streamside cover. In recent years, land use has changed within the park. Park streams and lakes are no longer stocked with nonnative fish, mining and livestock grazing no longer occur, and stream habitat is improving.
Great Basin National Park is charged with a mission to provide for public enjoyment of the park AND to protect the park's natural resources. The park started a long-term project in 1999 to eliminate the nonnative fish from certain park streams and return the native Bonneville cutthroat trout to the habitat.
Great Basin National Park, in cooperation with Trout Unlimited, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nevada Division of Wildlife, the Ely District Bureau of Land Management, and the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, is working to restore the Bonneville cutthroat trout to approximately eighteen stream miles within the South Snake Range. Six streams within the park are being considered for reintroduction efforts. The full Bonneville cutthroat trout reintroduction program is expected to take six to ten years to complete. When the new populations have stabilized, recreational fishing for this unique species will greatly add to visitor enjoyment of the park. Bonneville cutthroat in their native waters can reach relatively large sizes in small creeks compared to brook, rainbow and brown trout.
In order to make this project a success, we ask that you please do not move any fish between bodies of water within the park. While fishing in those streams that contain populations of Bonneville cutthroat trout, please practice catch and release techniques using barbless hooks and fill out an angler survey card before you leave.