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Did the Rodeo-Chediski Fire Affect the Fish Community in the Salt River?
Flathead catfishBackground:
In June-July 2002 the Rodeo-Chediski fire burned 467,000 acres of the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, and Tonto National Forest; the largest fire in Arizona history. Over 290,000 acres burned in the Salt River Basin. Rains after the fire washed sediment, ash, and fire-related compounds into streams and rivers. A few dead fish were noted in Tonto Creek, the Salt River, and several streams on the White Mountain Apache Reservation during the first runoff in July 2002.

Historically, native fish like Sonora and desert suckers were abundant in the river, but following introduction of flathead catfish in 1974, native fish declined in abundance. Since the mid 1990s Arizona Game and Fish Department had been considering reintroducing the native suckers but were not sure how successful their efforts would be because of the abundance of the highly predatory flathead catfish. Arizona Game and Fish Department was interested in knowing if the post-fire runoff suppressed flathead and other nonnative fish populations in the Salt River above Roosevelt Lake. If a die-off had occurred, then the time might be opportune for reintroduction of native fishes. Arizona Game and Fish Department Research Branch initiated a study in early 2003 to assess the post-fire fish community in the Salt River.

Salt River above Theodore Roosevelt Lake.

We conducted three sampling trips down the Salt River in
winter and spring of 2003. Biologists navigate Salt River.Fishes were sampled using a boat-mounted electroshocker, seines, gillnets, and trot-lines. All fish collected were identified to species, and length and weight were recorded. Data collected will be compared to historic data to determine changes in population abundance and distribution of non-native species. Water chemistry data was obtained from Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Geological Service Water Resources Division to identify any changes in water quality characteristics.

Fieldwork is complete and a final report will be completed by June 30, 2004.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department and Federal agencies such as U.S. Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, and U. S. Bureau of Reclamation benefit from this research by gaining a greater understanding of the effects of fire on fish assemblages. If it is determined that nonnative predatory fishes have been suppressed, the Department has the opportunity to attempt to reestablish (via translocation from Phoenix area canals) one or multiple native fish species in the river. These populations could potentially reproduce and recruit within the Salt River.

For more information contact:
Anthony Robinson, Arizona Game and Fish Department, 5000 W. Carefree Highway Phoenix, AZ 85086-5000 .
Phone: (602)-789-3376 E-mail:
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