Upper Wind River tributaries proposed for instream flow rights

JACKSON — Wyoming fisheries managers are taking steps to ensure that water remains in a handful of Wind River tributaries that provide crucial habitat for the watershed’s struggling native Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

The streams, clustered on the opposite side of Togwotee Pass, include sections of Burroughs, Sheridan and Stonefly Creeks and the Middle and West forks of Long Creek on the Shoshone National Forest. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is seeking “instream flow rights” on the creeks, which are essentially a water right for the stream itself.

“Water is the most important part of fish habitat,” Del Lobb, Game and Fish’s instream flow biologist, said in a news release. “Maintaining adequate amounts of water in streams year-round is critical for maintaining and improving the long-term health of fish populations.”

Unlike on the Snake River watershed side of Togwotee Pass, cutthroat are no longer the dominant trout species across the Continental Divide in the Wind River watershed. Rainbow and brown trout are generally much more common, especially lower in the drainage.

Habitat changes and competition with nonnative trout have decimated Yellowstone cutthroat trout, which today remain in just 25 percent of their native Wyoming range, according to Game and Fish.

Game and Fish prepared five applications for instream flow water rights to protect about 20 miles of stream from potential future irrigation and other human-related water demands.

The Wyoming Water Development Commission, the official applicant for the state, submitted the applications to the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office and conducted a hydrologic feasibility study funded by Game and Fish.

The State Engineer’s Office is holding a virtual public hearing about the proposals at 9 a.m. Wednesday, June 9. It will be recorded and posted online. Questions may be sent to Jason Feltner at 307-777-8789 or [email protected].