Patagonia gives $5,000 to restore trout habitat |

Patagonia gives $5,000 to restore trout habitat

Annie Whetzel

You wade out into the cool, clear water. The only sound is the gurgle rushing around you. The air is still and crisp, it is a beautiful October morning. The leaves are changing, and yellow-gold cottonwood leaves glide past your waders.

You take out some line, lift your arm back, the rod follows. You then cast forward in one smooth motion. The fly lands on the surface 20 feet in front of you, at the hole, no other disturbance around, and you see the telltale glimmer of an interested fish. It is a cutthroat trout, on your life list. It eyes your fly, waiting.

In the early 1800s, the cutthroat trout, the only species native to Colorado, were fished out of the streams for food, as catch and release was not a common practice back then. The streams and rivers across the state were then restocked with other species of trout to replenish the dwindling populations. While it might have seemed like a good idea at the time, the results have been disastrous for the cutthroat.

The native cutthroat is in danger of being eradicated completely from our watershed because of the threat of other fish, and the added stress of habitat destruction. The Middle Colorado Watershed Council aims to help the native cutthroat by establishing proper riparian habitat in areas that are known to have existing populations of the native fish.

Habitat for the cutthroat is lost for a variety of reasons from invasive vegetative species, to development, to overgrazing of animals, to climate change causing warming waters and less flow in the streams.

For cutthroat that live in the tributaries of the middle Colorado River, from Glenwood Springs to DeBeque, a noticeable threat was habitat loss due to overgrazing. The White River National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management, the two entities that manage much of the land, proposed a solution: manage the grazing through exclusions, and jump start bank restoration through willow plantings.

The Patagonia World Trout Initiative took notice of the MCWC’s habitat restoration project. Since 2005, the outdoor clothing company through its Trout Initiative has helped more than 200 groups and programs with $2 million in grant funding, and the MCWC is thrilled to be a part of the efforts this year.

On Oct. 8, the MCWC, USFS, Trout Unlimited and local community volunteers will head out to plant native species and rebuild the banks of Butler Creek, the first in a few more projects to come, to restore habitat in the area and help the fish.

In the meantime, the Forest Service and BLM have seen successes in the grazing management practices. Nate Higginson, the MCWC Watershed Technician and lead on the restoration projects, relayed a story of a USFS employee who observed a large spawning cutthroat on the stream in the past year, where previously only a few cutthroat were present.

The cutthroat will hopefully be around a while longer in the middle Colorado River watershed thanks to partnerships and programs like Butler Creek Restoration Project and efforts of many other organizations that protect our fish including the Western Native Trout Initiative, Trout Unlimited branch and funding opportunities like the Patagonia World Trout Initiative.

“When I first received the letter from Patagonia,” Higginson said, “I thought, ‘Wow!’ and then I thought, ‘How great is that, a large company that looks after native fish!’ It’s great that Patagonia puts funding towards what its customers value.”

Annie Whetzel is community outreach coordinator at the Middle Colorado Watershed Council. To learn more about the MCWC, go to You can more on Facebook at

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