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Bringing Back the Bonnies

Submitted: Aug. 10, 2020, 3 p.m.
By: Angie Decker, Horticulturist and Kate Randall, Mkt/Communications Specialist

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In keeping with its mission to manage and protect the state’s wildlife resources, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) called on Red Butte Garden to help further revive the Bonneville cutthroat trout population and educate the public about its history and habitat. This ambitious collaboration began with the dredging of the Garden’s middle and upper ponds and culminated in the release approximately 200 Bonneville cutthroat trout fingerlings—referred to as bonnies by many anglers—into the newly restored ponds fed by Red Butte Creek.

Through the fall of 2015 and winter of 2017-18 Red Butte Garden, the University of Utah Transportation Department, and other state and federal agencies worked together to permit and complete a dredging operation of both the upper and middle ponds that are fed by Red Butte Creek. More than 30 years of sediment buildup and overpopulation of weedy aquatic plants, including cattail (Typha), bulrush (Scirpus), and common reed (Phragmites), had made the ponds murky and congested. Prior to dredging, the DWR also removed the June sucker (Chasmistes liorus) population and returned them to Utah Lake and Provo River where they are endemic.

With the sediment, weedy plants, and invasive fish removed, the water became cleaner, clearer, and more habitable for native plants and wildlife, including the Bonneville cutthroat trout, which is Utah’s state fish

As a result of overfishing, competition from artificially stocked, non-native species, and habitat loss, this trout subspecies was believed extinct by the early 1900s. Miraculously, small populations were rediscovered in the 1970s, and after aggressive conservation efforts Utah’s state fish has made a comeback in its native range throughout Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Nevada. Descendants of those endangered populations were released into the Garden’s ponds and Red Butte Creek on June 15, 2020.

Red Butte Garden’s goal now is to educate the public about the Bonneville cutthroat trout and to provide a clean, clear Red Butte Creek habitat for it to thrive and become another stable population center of this Utah native trout. We invite you to spend some time at the Water Pavilion and along the banks of the ponds to see the trout and observe as they grow and thrive in their new home. Be sure to look for the distinctive red coloration on the underside of the lower jaw for which the trout is aptly named.

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