West Fork Black River Barriers

Implementing native trout recovery plan

About the Project

The Black River runs 114 miles through the two million-acre Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and the San Carlos and Fort Apache reservations in the White Mountains of east-central Arizona. The Black River joins the White River to form the Salt River, a major tributary of the Gila River and the historical home of federally threatened Apache trout.

Apache trout is one of Arizona’s two native trout species and is of cultural importance to the region’s Indigenous Peoples. Since 1975, the Apache Trout Recovery Team—comprising the White Mountain Apache Tribe, the San Carlos Apache Tribe, Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and U.S. Forest Service (USFS)—has carried out a recovery plan to ensure the long-term survival of Apache trout in its native range. Through several restoration projects, they have successfully returned pure Apache trout to the West Fork Black River and its tributaries. Between 1980 and 2005, The Apache Trout Recovery Team constructed multiple rock gabion barriers (wire containers filled with rock and other materials) on three tributaries to the West Fork Black River. The gabions were designed to prevent the upstream passage of non-native trout into the Apache trout habitat but were found ineffective shortly after they were installed. Between 2007 and 2015, large mainstem concrete barriers were built downstream of the rock gabions creating isolated habitat for the Apache trout.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) is now working to remove the ineffective gabions to improve river function and allow Apache trout to navigate freely in the West Fork Black River and its tributary habitats. The project has received federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding for construction.

Owner: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Size: small rock gabion barriers
Project Cost: $780,000
ORF Investment: design and permitting
Miles Opened: 12.2
Fish: ESA-threatened Apache trout and ESA-endangered loach minnow
Status: Barrier removals expected to begin in 2023, with 1 removed each year

  • Open 12 stream miles on the West Fork Black River, creating access to historic habitat for the Endangered Species Act (ESA)-threatened Apache trout and ESA-endangered loach minnow
  • Support traditional and cultural practices of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and the San Carlos Apache Tribe
  • Build resilience in the Apache trout population on the West Fork Black River with creation of metapopulation
  • Return stream channels to natural condition
  • Support broader Apache trout restoration effort in the Black River Watershed for the eventual delisting of the Apache trout
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Project Partners

Arizona Department of Fish and Game

White Mountain Apache Tribe

San Carlos Apache Tribe

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Old Pueblo Chapter of Trout Unlimited