Wander Your Watershed
Restoring North America’s Rarest Trout
The Story of Paiute Cutthroat Trout Recovery in Silver King Creek
By Leslie Alber, Senior Environmental Scientist, California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Paiute Cutthroat Trout are regarded as the rarest trout in North America, occupying a native range of only 11 miles of Silver King Creek between Llewellyn Falls and Snodgrass Creek in Alpine County, CA. The area is remote in the backcountry of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. Early records of Paiute Cutthroat Trout date back to the late 1800s, but by the early part of the twentieth century they had been extirpated from their native range and faced extinction. The history of Paiute Cutthroat Trout is not without a combination of threats, including habitat fragmentation, unregulated angling, overgrazing, climate change, and wildfire, but competition and hybridization with introduced trout is the primary reason for their extirpation from their native range. Only by chance were Paiute Cutthroat Trout saved from extinction by Basque sheepherders who moved them above Llewellyn Falls, a natural barrier to fish passage, allowing government agencies and advocates the opportunity to recover the species and reintroduce them to their native range.