Newly restored Colorado River habitat spawns success

A new spawning channel at the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve in Moab is seeing success in its efforts to restore habit for the endangered razorback sucker fish. [Photo courtesy of Zach Ahrens / Utah Division of Wildlife Resources]

The planning and design work of a new habitat built for endangered fish in the Colorado River is seeing its first signs of success.

A partnership among local, state and federal agencies created an inlet channel from the Colorado River into the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve in Moab in hopes that razorback sucker larvae will travel into the restored habitat and grow.

The razorback suckers were once proliferate in the Colorado River, but a loss of habitat for spawning has contributed to their classification as an endangered species.

Zach Ahrens, a native aquatics biologist at the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources’ Moab Field Station, said larvae has been collected and identified as razorback suckers.

“If you’ve been following our progress, you’re probably aware that our infrastructure improvements are not quite finished,” Ahrens said. “Our temporary stop-log ‘gate’ system is an imperfect barrier which essentially slows water moving between the river and wetland pond. Thus we don’t have the ability to ‘stage’ water and larvae in the inlet channel and then ‘flush’ into the wetland by opening a gate. “

Ahrens said the stop logs were removed and replaced with temporary fish screen panels. 

“We hope this will give larvae the opportunity to move into the preserve as river stage increases, or under their own power,” he said.

Work is still underway on identifying the larvae that has moved into the inlet behind the screen and an estimated count of the larval population remains unknown.

“Still, Katie, myself and the rest of the Moab UDWR office thought you all would be glad to learn that our wetland augmentation appears to be working as desired in some capacity,” Ahrens said.

Katie Creighton, the native aquatics project leader for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources in Moab, previously told the Moab Sun News that similar spawning projects across the state to restore the habitat for the endangered razorback suckers have been successful.