Westslope Cutthroat Trout Concerns
Overharvesting and poaching initiated the problem with these fish many years ago, and poaching still contributes to the problems they are having. The major issues arise from continuing habitat destruction from recreation (ATVs) and resource development (especially road and linear development), and the continuing failure to address hybridization and competition with exotic species. The vast majority of Alberta populations are now extensively hybridized with rainbow trout, which are native in this province only to a part of the upper Athabasca River drainage, but have been widely introduced elsewhere. In other words, most cutthroat populations in Alberta now are a completely different “species.” That is why it is so critical to protect the few remaining genetically-pure native populations.
There is some evidence that cutthroats are competitively displaced by widely introduced brook trout and brown trout, both of which, like rainbows, are not native to our cutthroat drainages. The mechanism of displacement is not entirely clear, and requires more research, but is probably exacerbated by widespread habitat disruption.
Cutthroat trout require cold water to live and to spawn. Removal of shade adjacent to rivers and creeks risks raising water temperatures to a level which the fish cannot endure. Added to this is the potential impact of climate change. Warmer winters, changing snowpack and changing precipitation could have a negative impact on remaining trout habitat.