Westslope Cutthroat Trout Recovery

About the Westslope Cutthroat Trout (WSCT) Recovery Program

Westslope Cutthroat Trout are native to the mountain and foothill streams of southern Alberta within the Oldman and Bow watersheds. In recent years, they have faced increasing pressures and have seen population declines. In Alberta, westslope cutthroat trout are listed as Threatened under the Alberta Wildlife Act and the federal Species at Risk Act.

The Westslope Cutthroat Trout Recovery Program is an effort to recover the species through understanding the threats to its survival, through co-ordinated action, and through the support of stakeholders, the public, and multiple levels of government.

The WSCT Recovery Program is part of an integrated provincial fisheries management approach which means it is linked to:

  • Roadway Watercourse Crossings Remediation Program
  • Whirling disease and invasive species management

Legislative Mandate

The guiding legislation for the Westslope Cutthroat Trout Recovery Program includes the provincial Fisheries (Alberta) Act and the federal Species at Risk Act. To review this legislation, visit:

How the WSCT Recovery Program Works

Select from the collapsible menu topics below to learn more about the North Central Native Trout Recovery Program. Also see the Program Resources section below for additional factsheets about the program.

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What are some of the threats to Alberta’s native westslope cutthroat trout?

Alberta Environment and Parks has been examining the various negative impacts on westslope cutthroat trout populations and the cumulative effects of these impacts. Of the more than 20 such impacts that are caused by human activity, fisheries biologists have identified several that have particularly significant effects:

  • Hybridization (interbreeding) with non-native trout
  • Indirect mortality resulting from catch and release fishing and illegal harvest
  • Degradation and destruction of habitats

What are some of the actions that will help westslope cutthroat trout populations recover?

The Alberta government is working on a number of initiatives, in collaboration with various stakeholders, to address three main areas of risk to the westslope cutthroat trout. A successful plan needs to coordinate credible science, actions and the support of stakeholders, public and governments through actions such as:

  • Restoration of degraded habitats;
  • Seeking measures to proactively protect habitats;
  • Removal or prevention of the movement of non-native trout that interbreed or otherwise compete with westslope cutthroat trout;
  • Restoration stocking;
  • Restrictions to sport fishing in select habitats; and
  • The provision of clear advice to regulators through land-use plans, regulatory mechanisms and other habitat management actions.

How does human activity affect westslope cutthroat trout habitats?

Water and land-use practices can result in the degradation and destruction of fish habitat, including sedimentation and habitat fragmentation, changes in riparian vegetation and changes in water quality and quantity. These changes can negatively impact fish populations by altering the productive capacity of streams and watersheds.

One of the objectives of the WSCT Recovery Program is to protect and restore habitat. This can be achieved through site-specific restoration plans and by working with provincial and federal regulators, industry and other stakeholders to ensure the habitat needs of westslope cutthroat trout are considered in land-use planning, processes and practices.

What work was done in 2017 on the WSCT Recovery Program?

In 2017, the WSCT Recovery Team focused on small-scale habitat recovery actions to pilot restoration approaches and processes that can be applied across the range of the species in subsequent years. These habitat recovery pilot projects primarily focused on trail reclamation in order to limit detrimental instream activity, reduce sediment input and restore the riparian habitat. Other actions to address habitat degradation threats will be implemented at a broader regional scale, such as land-use plans and regulatory processes that specifically include advice based on the habitat needs of westslope cutthroat trout.

Pilot recovery sites were identified in the watersheds of Waiparous Creek, Silvester Creek, Todd Creek, Camp Creek, North Lost Creek, O’Haggen Creek, Allison Creek and Beaver Creek. These sites were selected based on where genetically pure or near-pure fish are present and based on input from stakeholders with local knowledge of habitat-related issues and opportunities for collaboration with other agencies and stakeholders.

How does the introduction of non-native trout species affect westslope cutthroat trout populations?

When two or more different fish species interbreed, unique genes are permanently lost or altered. This is called hybridization. Hybridization is a significant cause of the decline of westslope cutthroat trout across its native range.

Black-spotted trout native to western North America (Genus Oncorhynchus) are particularly sensitive to hybridization because these species naturally evolved in isolation from each other. As Europeans settled the area, they raised trout in captivity and stocked different trout species outside their native range in an attempt to bolster and improve recreational angling opportunities, which resulted in hybridization.

Advances in genetic assessment techniques have allowed a better understanding of the distinct differences in westslope cutthroat trout sub-populations across the landscape, which will ultimately lead to more informed recovery actions and establishment of more resilient populations in appropriate locations.

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Updated: Dec 18, 2017