The California golden trout, with its vibrant orange and red color, is often called the most beautiful trout in the world. But it’s in hot water … literally.

California golden trout

The trout is native to the tributaries of just two California rivers and requires cool water to thrive. That’s provided by melting snowpack that trickles down from the mountains. Shade from willow trees along the banks also helps keep the water cool, ideally below 68 degrees Fahrenheit.

But Michael Carl, an angler and conservation writer, says those willow trees are being destroyed by local cattle that are overgrazing the area.

Carl: “Where you see the cattle grazing, you can definitely notice the vegetation is pretty thin.”

Add heat and a prolonged drought, and the water gets dangerously warm. During a five-year study, two streams reached 79 degrees Fahrenheit or 26 degrees Celsius.

Carl: “Most trout don’t do well when it goes above twenty Celsius. They start to stress. They shut down, essentially. They stop eating.”

The golden trout is not on the federal Endangered Species List, but California is monitoring its population carefully as global warming makes it harder for the fish to find cool water.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media/Andrew Lapin.
Photo: Golden trout in natural environment (copyright protected).

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California Golden Trout
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Sara Peach is the editor-in-chief of Yale Climate Connections. She is an environmental journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, Environmental Health News, Grist,...