The trout from above the impassable Middle Falls of the McCloud River have been genetically isolated for thousands of years and evolved into their own distinct fish known as McCloud River Redband Trout. They are thought to be one of the oldest populations of Rainbow trout. Today, this species is on life support. The drought nearly wiped them out, but rescue efforts by CDFW have allowed them continued survival for now.
McCloud River Redband Trout once had interconnected populations in the Upper McCloud River and its tributaries. Today, pure populations are limited to just four, small (less than 2 km) streams in the McCloud headwaters; these streams disappear underground into highly porous volcanic rock before connecting with the mainstem McCloud River downstream. Due to their isolation and small population, McCloud River Redband Trout are at a critical level of concern, based on the SOS II report by CalTrout and UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences. They are highly vulnerable to stressors such as floods, drought, and fire- all of which are likely to be exacerbated under climate change.
Decades of fire suppression in the McCloud River Basin has built up potential fuels sources, increasing wildfire risk that could potentially wipe out one or more McCloud River Redband populations. McCloud Redbands and their pure strain are also threatened by predation, disease, and competition from stocked Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout, and Brown Trout. Generally, where alien trout are present, McCloud River Redband Trout are absent or have become hybridized. The McCloud River Redbands are a unique and robust species that have persisted through historic drought before, but in the face of climate change, human intervention is needed. Thankfully, conservation of McCloud Redbands is active and ongoing thanks to the leadership of the McCloud Redband Core Group (RCG), a multi-partner organization (California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, private landowners, and others), which is dedicated to the conservation of the McCloud River Redband trout. In addition, the western states, several tribes, and Trout Unlimited have been coordinating all recovery efforts under a formal conservation Agreement, with regular meetings and information updates. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has undertaken significant genetic studies, fish rescue operations, and creation and implementation of conservation hatchery plans at the Mount Shasta Hatchery to protect McCloud River Redband trout from severe impacts to extinction in the wild.
As part of CalTrout’s Return to Resilience plan for California’s native fish, we recommend that a McCloud River Redband Trout refuge be established that contains all current Redband streams and suitable reaches of potential future habitat for translocations. In addition, a captive broodstock program should be implemented to protect the genetic integrity of McCloud River Redbands and help facilitate CDFW’s 2013 Upper McCloud River Redband Trout Reintroduction Plan. With the isolation and small population of McCloud River Redband Trout, their status could change rapidly, particularly related to climate change impacts, so it is imperative that conservation actions be implemented.