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2019 Q1 Conservation Project

Q1 / 2019:Conservation Partner Project


Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout
Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout


With basin + bend, contributing to conservation is easy! That's because we leverage commerce for conservation. By simply purchasing your favorite hunting and fishing gear from basin + bend (at the same price you would at any other retailer) you'll be supporting this partner and provide much needed funds to the project. Instead of donating an unknown "portion of the profits" to a conservation effort, we show you exactly how much is going to be donated to this specific project (typically 11% of your purchase total).


The Western Native Trout Initiative (WNTI) is a public-private Fish Habitat Partnership that works collaboratively across 12 western states to conserve, protect, restore and recover 21 native trout and char species.

Western Native Trout Initiative's Mission: “To serve as a key catalyst for the implementation of conservation or management actions, through partnerships and cooperative efforts, resulting in improved species status, improved aquatic habitats, and improved recreational opportunities for native trout anglers across western states”. 

The Vision of the Western Native Trout Initiative is: “An increase in healthy, fishable western native trout, char and kokanee populations resulting from sharper focus and commitment to action on common conservation needs of western native trout; enhanced public benefit resulting from multiple partners working together, sharing resources, and speaking with a united voice about the conservation and value of western native trout; and increased funding to accomplish strategic actions as a result of greater community and financial support from initiative partners and collaborators.” 


The first European documentation of the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout (RGCT) was in 1541 when the Spanish Conquistadors under the direction  of Francisco Vazquez de Coronado made note of it on their journey looking for the lost seven cities of gold. European eyes would not document another RGCT again until 1853, when railroad surveyors collected a specimen. Today, Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout, Oncorhynchus clarkii virginalis, can be found in high elevation streams and lakes of the Rio Grande, Canadian, and Pecos River drainages in Colorado and New Mexico, giving it the southern-most distribution of any cutthroat trout.


For more than 20 years, fishery biologists have been searching for Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout (RGCT) populations, studying their habitat, and restoring the species to streams. Historically, RGCT occupied all cool waters in the Rio Grande drainage along with the waters of the Pecos and Canadian drainages. The historic range of Rio Grande cutthroat trout has been reduced over the last 150 years due to many landscape changes, including drought, water infrastructure, habitat changes, hybridization with rainbow trout and other species of cutthroat trout, and competition from brown trout and brook trout.

As a result of these changes in environmental conditions, many historical populations were lost, and those that remain are restricted primarily to headwater streams, with conservation populations now concentrated in streams with elevations from 9,000-10,000 feet. The species now only occupies just 12 percent of its historic habitat in about 800 miles of streams.

From 2018–2020, the Western Native Trout Initiative (WNTI) will work with the RGCT Conservation Team partners to elevate and accelerate conservation for RGCT in the Pecos River Basin in New Mexico and Sand Creek drainage of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range (Rio Grande Headwaters GMU) in Colorado, by securing partners and the financial resources to implement projects that increase the number of populations and occupied stream miles of this unique fish while supporting community-based outreach and education opportunities.

Rio Grande Cutthroat Populations
Rio Grande Cutthroat Populations


  • Project Location: Sand Creek in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Saguache County, Colorado
  • Project Goal: Create a self- sustaining population of Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout in historical habitat currently occupied by non-native trout.
  • Community Outcomes: Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout are currently listed as a Colorado Species of Greatest Conservation Need. Through creating more viable populations of Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout, we hope to avoid federal listing of the species. Adding 12 miles and 2 lakes of habitat for Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout will help our conservation efforts related to this important native trout.
  • Project Approach: Currently Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout only occupy 12% of their historic range. At completion of the Sand Creek Project, about 15 miles of stream and 106 acres of lake habitat will be restored for RGCT. Additionally, a self-sustaining population of RGCT will be restored to the Sand Creek watershed providing resiliency to the viability of RGCT range-wide. The project will provide opportunity for backcountry anglers to catch the native cutthroat of the Rio Grande.
  • Specific Actions: About 12 miles of stream and 2 lakes of the Sand Creek drainage will have non-native fish removed. The removal of non-natives will allow for the reintroduction of native Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout in the drainage.
  • Recovery and Management Plans: Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout restoration is the only project planned for Sand Creek watershed. The future management plan would be having a self sustaining population of genetically pure Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout.
  • Project Partners: National Park Service, Trout Unlimited, U.S. Forest Service
  • Budget: $150,000 (total budget); $36,500 (WNTI request)


Many of your favorite fishing, hunting and outdoor brands have already joined our Conservation First™ program. Take a look at our online store and we are sure you'll find something that you've already been eyeing!

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