Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Cecil the Lion, Grizzly Bears and Conservation

The killing of Cecil the Lion and the questions the act has raised in the public and among the conservation community particularly, have faded from the headlines.  However, during the height of the debate that raged immediately after Cecil's death I read an editorial in a local (Wyoming) newspaper that has stuck with me over the last few weeks.
Cecil the Lion
Photo from Time.com
http://time.com/3995741/africa-zimbabwe-poaching-
hunting-cecil-the-lion-conservation/

The author, an outfitter who makes a living by guiding hunters to big and trophy game, presented a compelling argument that directly tied together the death of Cecil the Lion and his profession.  He noted that hunters and outfitters are salivating for the de-listing of the grizzly bear from the auspices of the Endangered Species Act here in my native Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in order to hunt the species.  He then went on to articulate the economic value of grizzly bears alive as compared to the money generated from a potential trophy hunt for the species.

In his editorial the outfitter confronted head-on the question of whether or not conservation of rare or endangered animals are greatly benefited  through hunting- his conclusion was a resounding no.  As the author noted, millions of dollars are generated as a result of tourist coming to Yellowstone just of an opportunity to see a grizzly bear and potential take a picture.  For literally millions of people such a chance is a bucket-list opportunity.

Grizzly Bear
Photo from U.S. National Park Service
http://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/gbearinfo.htm
There is no doubt that sportmen and women contribute to conservation and contribute mightily. Whether it's through license fees or taxes collected on sporting goods- taxes that we've gone to the mat to ensure they are maintained- hunters and anglers put their money where their mouth's are.  But, we must never lose sight that hunting and angling are guided by a code of ethics and that code is undermined when poor choices and outcomes are glossed over with a disingenuous claim that killing an animal provides a net benefit to conservation of the species. This is particularly true of species with low numbers that are either endangered or on the cusp of becoming endangered.

I thought about Cecil and grizzly bears as I followed a trail this weekend in the Cloud Peak Wilderness of Wyoming's Big Horn Mountains. I thought about the ethics of angling and how time has shaped our fishing attitude from "keeping your limit" to "limiting your keep" that, in turn, has produced today's catch-and-release ethic.  While angling rarely suffers the limelight that comes with the hunting and killing of a rare or endangered mammal, the death of Cecil the Lion provides us a moment to consider both the ethics that has become a central part of fly fishing as well as how we want our sport to be viewed by the non-angling public.
Cheers,
Brad

You can also find my discussions on fly fishing and conservation issues at-
Twitter- @conservationfly
Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/conservationflyfishing

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

When poison is necessary to restore native trout

Native trout in today's cold-water ecosystems must cope with numerous threats that include habitat loss, pollution, climate change, recreational fishing pressure, and competition with stocked non-native trout.  As native trout have continued to lose ground many (sub)species have been petitioned for listing under the Endangered Species Act of which six have been listed.  And as presented by Trout Unlimited's State of the Trout report, excluding already extinct trout, more than 50% of the remaining (sub)species occupy less than 25% of their historical habitat.

State and federal agencies along with local stakeholders and non-profit conservation groups have collaborated to protect and restore native trout throughout their historical habitat.  One of the tools utilized to restore native trout to habitat that has been lost to non-natives stocked for recreational opportunities is the piscicide rotenone.

Rotenone is used to completely cleanse a waterway of fish (and typically any other organism that relies on gills to breath including tadpoles, non-adult salamanders, and macro-invertebrates) in order to make way for native fish to be restored to the waters.  Typically a water is treated more than once in order to ensure that non-natives aren't hiding in some watery nook or cranny waiting to refill the now open environment with its own progeny that would once again compete with the native trout that are being restored.

A great example of the use of piscicides such as rotenone to restore native trout can be found in the waters of Yellowstone National Park (YNP).  In 2011, YNP published a Native Fish Conservation Plan, which set the stage for the restoration of genetically pure Yellowstone cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri) to Soda Butte Creek later this year.  Rotenone will be utilized to remove non-native brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) from Soda Butte Creek, which is a tributary to Yellowstone's famous Lamar River, making way for Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

The use of piscicides in support of native trout restoration is a well established management tool in fisheries management.  But, like so many government actions, the removal of non-natives with the use of poison is often met with vocal and at times radical resistance.  I can fully understand how the use of lethal methods may seem antithetical to conservation efforts.  However, until technology bequeaths us a more effective means of non-native removal and native trout continue to brave today's overwhelming synergistic threats, the use of piscicides must continue to serve as a conservation tool.

I suspect that this entry may engender rather vitrolic responses as the use of poison in nature brings with it heated rhetoric.  Nevertheless, this is a topic that is too important to native trout conservation to go unaddressed.  So until next time, let the vitriol flow!
Cheers,
Brad

You can also find my discussions on fly fishing and conservation issues at-
Twitter- @conservationfly
Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/conservationflyfishing

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Native, Wild or Hatchery? Why does the lineage of a trout matter?

Yellowstone National Park has embarked on an aquatic management program that emphasizes restoring and maintaining native species.  This decision has come, as all government decisions do, with  plenty of detractors.  What has surprised me is the number of anglers that have come out against this management approach.  The suppression of lake trout in Yellowstone lake in order to try and save the lake's once enormous population of Yellowstone cutthroat trout and the  removal of introduced nonnatives in order to restore Westslope cutthroat trout have both been attacked by the very anglers whose sport would benefit most from these actions.  I hope you can imagine my surprise.

Yellowstone Cuttroat Trout - Upper Slough River
Yellowstone cutthroat trout
Photo from Hatch Magazine-
http://www.hatchmag.com/photo/yellowstone-and-its-cutthroat-trout
For all of our knowledge on the life stages of aquatic invertebrates and our ability to look at surface waters and understand the structure beneath and what it means for trout, I'm struck by how many anglers seem to overlook the differences between the species of trout that tug at the end of their line.  Was the trout raised in a hatchery and dumped into the water from the back of a truck?  Is the leaping beauty the wild offspring of a stock that has lived in the stream for many generations?  Or, is the speckled trout a reflection of its surroundings having evolved in the waters from which it became prey to the anglers craft?

Stocked, wild, or native?  These are labels that carry with them tremendous ecological distinctions.  Generally speaking stocked and wild trout come from other watersheds at the least, and, at the greatest geographic extent, other continents.  But native trout  have evolved in those waters were they are caught and are an integral part of a foodweb that has evolved over millennia.  This is where ecology begins to unravel when discussing the lineage of trout and the need for native trout conservation begins.

In watersheds throughout the United States native trout continue to lose ground. Trout Unlimited's recent State of the Trout report vividly presents the precarious position of native trout throughout the country.  Give this a moment of thought as you identify the next trout you catch and ask yourself whether it is a native, wild, or stocked specimen.  We are living through the sixth great extinction of the Earth's history and it's not done yet.  The cumulative threats to native trout may cost us our single greatest asset to the sport of fly fishing.
Cheers,
Brad

You can also find my discussions on fly fishing and conservation issues at-
Twitter- @conservationfly
Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/conservationflyfishing


Monday, June 29, 2015

The State of Trout in America

Last week the world's preeminent coldwater conservation organization, Trout Unlimited (TU), released a nation spanning report on the state of native trout in the United States.  The report reflects a remarkable shift in the vision and focus of Trout Unlimited from wild, non-native trout to native trout.

The report is sobering in its assessment of today's threats to native trout, yet optimistic in its vision for tomorrow.  Paraphrasing from the report, three of twenty-eight species and subspecies of trout are extinct while thirteen species occupy less than 25% of their historical habitat.  Trout Unlimited has strongly presented the case that the threats to native trout are continuing to increase rather than decrease.  Threats to native trout and their habit have long been recognized and include historic natural resource practices, the indiscriminate stocking of non-native trout, and most recently climate change.
Tensleep Creek, Bighorn Mountains, Wyoming

Trout Unlimited presented an eight-point strategy to protect and restore native trout throughout the United States.  The strategy is ambitious and, much to TU's credit, seeks to build bridges with industries that are often vilified.  Many of the points contained in the report are familiar to those who know the organization, others reflect advances in the germane fields of science, while a couple of the points reflect where the organization has fallen short and seeks self-improvement.

Trout Unlimited claims 155,000 members and notes that we  are an odd bunch as well as a group that contributes tremendously to local economies through both the love of our sport and our passion for conservation.  Chris Wood, President and CEO of Trout Unlimited, is on the mark when he describes fly anglers passion, stubbornness, optimism, and charity.  The State of the Trout Report reflects not only the tremendous threats to the beautiful fish that in great measure allows fly fishing to be as much sport as art, but also the uphill battle that this generation and next must undertake if native trout are continue to be a beautiful and unique part of our world.

As I explore the report in more detail I will revisit it's substance in future blog posts.
The report can be found at- http://www.tu.org/stateofthetrout
Cheers,
Brad


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Fishing when the Cacti Bloom

It is the tail-end of that time of year when I (and many others) anxiously await for the high waters of spring runoff to subside so that I may again return to the water with rod in hand.  This year, runoff was extended courtesy of late spring snow and rains that followed a depressingly warm January and February.




As my anxiety has begun to peak I've taken to almost daily treks along the Stock Paul Nature Trail on the edge of town here in Cody, WY.  Walking along the trails nearly everyday this last week, gazing enviously at the churning river, singular yellow blooms along the sagebrush covered uplands would occasionally catch my eye.



The nearly daily pilgrimage's to the  edge of the Shoshone River have treated me to an increase in the delicate, beautiful yellow blooms of fragile prickly pear cactus (Opuntia fragilis).  Having the opportunity to enjoy the brief window of blooming cacti pulled my gaze from the river and instead opened my eye to nature around me.  Now, as I wait for the waters to recede, I've taken to tallying the birds of the nearby sagebrush uplands and the riparian corridor of the Shoshone River.
Cheers,
Brad

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Stomach Pumps Diminish the Sport of Fly Fishing

The use of stomach pumps in fly fishing diminish the value of ethical chase in the same manner as the use of silencers in hunting.

We've all been there- casting endlessly to rising trout only to be refused at every offering.  We change flies, we change tippet sizes, we change the type of cast we use, but nothing seems to work.  Then suddenly the surge of the strike breaks our haze of determined frustration- fish on!  There's nothing quite like landing a fish after such tireless exertions.  It's the highest form of prize in a pursuit that straddles both sport and art.

To stuff a plastic tube down the throat of this prize to pull from it the meals it has struggled to gather at the cost of its own energy reserves can do nothing but sully the trophy that has been  so hard sought.  And to what gain?  So that we can just catch more fish or larger fish?  If that is what the sport has been reduced to then it is just as easy to follow a stocking truck and wait for it to disgorge its load of hatchery raised flesh.

The time has come to recognize that stomach pumps have no place in the sport of fly fishing.  Anglers have far too many other choices from which to choose in order to pursue trout ethically.  Sometimes that means changing flies for the tenth time or, as I've done on more occasions that I like to admit, returning home without having landed a single fish.
Let the discussion begin!
Cheers,
Brad

You can also find me on:
Twitter-   @conservationfly
Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/conservationflyfishing

Monday, June 8, 2015

Fishing for Science?!

Just when you thought life couldn't get any better Trout Unlimited has again launched its TroutBlitz fish identification effort.  The TroutBlitz calls on anglers to fish in the name of science and if that weren't enough, Trout Unlimited is offering prizes each month to those who document the highest number of species caught through the month of October.  Admittedly, I'm a little behind in getting the word out on this as TroutBlitz officially kicked-off on May 23rd- my apology to all.  And just to show that I'm not trying to tip the scales in my favor I will admit that I haven't even put a line in the water this year (yes, I'm a bit ashamed to admit that).
Gibbon River at Norris Meadow's Picnic area, 
Yellowstone National Park

Trout Unlimited has developed the iNaturalist  app for you to document your catch with a picture and location, which you can then upload directly to their science team.  I sincerely hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to add your chapter to the world's ecological book of knowledge.
Cheers and see you on the water,
Brad







You can also find me on:
Twitter-   @conservationfly
Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/conservationflyfishing