First Advisor

Mark D. Sytsma

Date of Publication

Fall 12-5-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Environmental Science and Management


Environmental Science and Management




Westslope cutthroat trout -- Habitat -- Washington (State) -- Colville National Forest, Westslope cutthroat trout -- Migration -- Washington (State) -- Colville National Forest, Cutthroat trout -- Washington (State) -- Colville National Forest, Fishways, River channels



Physical Description

1 online resource (xi, 107 pages)


Climate change and anthropogenic effects have vastly reduced Westslope Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi, WCT) habitat throughout their range, including the Colville National Forest in northeastern Washington where this study was conducted. Many native salmonid populations have declined in abundance since the early 1900s due to a variety of climate- and human-driven forces. Westslope Cutthroat Trout are especially sensitive to habitat loss or degradation and to climate change. Together, climate change, habitat degradation, and non-native salmonid invasions are contributing to increasingly fragmented WCT populations. Ongoing and predicted future warming trends are expected to further fragment these populations and isolate them in headwater stream reaches, with populations in the spatial margins of their distributions facing greater risk. Native salmonid populations are often separated or isolated by natural or artificial upstream migration barriers (i.e., waterfalls, culverts, etc.). Prior to continuing conservation and management actions targeting WCT, it is imperative to understand habitat requirements of this keystone species in fragmented areas. Field survey data were collected in the summer of 2015 on channel geomorphic characteristics and WCT presence/absence in 26 streams located in the Colville National Forest. A clear spatial separation was observed between Eastern Brook Trout (Salvenius fontinalis, EBT) and WCT above four culvert road crossings and the habitat in both of these areas was compared statistically to identify explicit differences. This dataset was also analyzed using logistic regression modeling to determine the best habitat predictors of the presence of isolated WCT populations existing upstream of these crossing. In general, stream habitat in the Middle and South Forks of Mill Creek had low large substrate, high fine sediments, and exhibited pool-riffle channel morphology. Pool habitat supporting isolated WCT was significantly smaller, in terms of volume and surface area, than pool habitat supporting sympatric populations of WCT and EBT, largely due to the headwater nature of channel units supporting isolated WCT populations. Additionally, due to the extreme drought conditions during 2015, stream flow was substantially diminished in the study area causing these reaches to be highly fragmented and largely disconnected from the rest of the stream channel. Fine sediments were generally higher in headwater reaches supporting isolated WCT, including in pools and riffles, which was unexpected, mainly because they exist above sediment delivery points in the longitudinal extent of the system.

Logistic regression analysis indicated that the presence of isolated WCT populations was primarily positively associated with an increase in large wood and boulders, and negatively associated with increasing gravel, bedrock, habitat unit length, depth, and width (Significant x2, R2=0.174, misclassification rate = 14.9%, α=0.05). The final model correctly predicted 37.5% of isolated WCT presence observations and 96.5% of the WCT/EBT presence observations significantly better than by chance alone (k=0.81). This model, in fact, may be useful in identifying limited habitat due to the fragmented nature of the channel units supporting IWCT. Large wood and boulders were positively correlated to WCT presence, likely because both are important in the formation of pools and cascades. Channel unit length, width, depth, active channel width as well as gravel and bedrock substrates, were all negatively associated with WCT presence. This suggests that isolated WCT are primarily associated with small headwater cascades with complex shelter, which may provide greater thermal and predation refuge compared to shallow glide or large pool habitats. Future model analysis should include additional habitat variables such as water temperature, stream gradient, and species interactions to strengthen the prediction of Westslope Cutthroat Trout presence. Overall, I concluded that differences in stream habitat above and below blocking culverts are not driving Westslope Cutthroat Trout distributions in the study area due to confounding factors such as the presence of problematic barriers and small sample size. I also conclude that future conservation and management decisions specific to WCT should prioritize complex cascade habitat in headwater stream reaches because of the type and quantity of habitat they may provide, especially during severe drought or low flow conditions.


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