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Del Lobb, instream flow biologist with Game and Fish, conducts a stream flow assessment on Daniel Creek in 2019. WYGFD photo

CHEYENNE – Five stream segments of crucial native trout habitat have been proposed for streamflow protection in Wyoming.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is seeking instream flow water rights for sections of Burroughs, Sheridan and Stonefly Creeks and the Middle and West forks of Long Creek on the Shoshone National Forest in the Upper Wind River drainage. The water rights are important to maintaining populations of Yellowstone cutthroat trout in their native range.

Instream flow water rights are one of the tools Game and Fish uses to protect fish habitat and essential river functions. The rights ensure water keeps flowing in streams for fisheries purposes, while protecting existing water users, and it is based on the same laws used for other kinds of water rights.

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

Game and Fish conducted instream flow investigations on the five creeks in 2015 to determine flows needed to maintain the existing Yellowstone cutthroat trout populations. The proposed water rights would protect flows in a total of 20 miles of the streams. Information about the proposed instream flow segments is available at https://tinyurl.com/4r7byajw.

All five stream segments are within the Yellowstone cutthroat trout’s native range.

“Securing the water rights means the streams will continue to flow naturally and provide critical habitat for spawning, passage and year-round survival of this species,” Lobb said.

Habitat changes and non-native species have restricted Yellowstone cutthroat trout to about 25% of its native range in Wyoming.

“Protecting streamflows in these headwater streams will help conserve the remaining Wyoming populations of this species,” Lobb said.

Securing instream flow water rights has benefits for anglers and Wyoming, too.

“Instream flows benefit the 48% of Wyoming residents who fish. They also help Wyoming’s tourism industry, which in large part depends on flowing streams that provide angling and boating opportunities and enhance sight-seeing, hiking, hunting and camping,” Lobb said.

Game and Fish prepared five applications for the instream flow water rights.

The Wyoming Water Development Commission, the official applicant for the state, submitted the applications to the 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 on 9 a.m. June 9 to share information and receive comments on the proposed water rights. It will be recorded and made available for anyone who is unable to attend.

The public hearing is a benchmark in a multi-step process to acquire instream flow water rights. That process is detailed on the Game and Fish website (https://tinyurl.com/342mmyn2).

For questions about how to participate in the virtual public hearing, details of the applications or the subsequent meeting recording, please contact Jason Feltner at 307-777-8789 or jason.feltner@wyo.gov.

If the water rights are approved by the State Engineer following the public hearing, these five stream segments will add to the 123 instream flow segments already secured for fish in Wyoming.

Currently 512 miles – of the more than 25,000 miles of streams with fisheries in Wyoming – have instream flow water rights for sport fisheries and native fish conservation.

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