Trout rescue operation at Arroyo Seco ignites Pasadena water war

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Angel Pinedo, director of education for the Arroyo Seco Conservation Foundation, looks for rainbow trout and other fish in the Arroyo Seco.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

In an era of increasing drought and nearly back-to-back wildfires, state conservationists have been working overtime in the San Gabriel Mountains to rescue frogs, fish and other species facing potential oblivion by rounding up populations of threatened animals and transporting them to safer areas.

While most of these efforts have occurred in obscurity, one recent mission to save hundreds of doomed rainbow trout has touched off a heated battle between humans and fish over the clear waters of Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco. The controversy has also served to highlight the challenges wildlife biologists now face as they search for havens amid Southern California’s patchwork of urban development, wildfire scars and seasonal mudslides.

After last summer’s Bobcat fire burned more than 115,000 acres of wrinkled slopes and lush canyons, state biologists began to worry that a native population of rainbow trout living in the West Fork of the San Gabriel River could be wiped out if winter storms unleashed a muddy avalanche of slurry, sediment and fire debris into the waterway. They soon hatched a plan to translocate 469 rainbows to the Arroyo Seco, a winding creek that snakes past the Jet Propulsion Laboratory some 30 miles away.

Translocation occurs when animals are moved to areas that are not within their home range, whereas relocation describes moving animals to another area within their home range. In explaining its decision to translocate the trout, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said doing so provided an opportunity to preserve valuable genetic stock and “potentially reestablish a native rainbow trout population” in the stream where fish had been decimated by the 2009 Station fire.

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