Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Wyoming Mountains & Home-waters

First, allow me to apologize for my lack of content over the last several months.  This last fall I once again took-up a book manuscript that I've been working on for quite some time after setting it aside following the birth of my second little one last summer.  Work on the manuscript has dominated my time as well as my mental space so important for writing, thus the lapse in blog posts.

Much like this blog, the focus of my book is on trout conservation.  Tentatively titled, Wyoming Mountains & Home-waters: poverty, fly fishing, and conservation, the book is a call for an ecosystem-spanning view of native trout conservation wrapped in a memoir of growing up in rural Wyoming, learning to fly fish and making a life-long connection to nature.

Native trout are the twenty-first century inheritors of the conservation efforts for wild trout that have been so successful over the last several decades.  Many of our native trout are in dire need of conservation and protection efforts as they continue to lose habitat to human development.  And not to be overlooked is the fact that many of the native trout that make our home-waters special are in a losing struggle with non-native trout stocked into their habitat.  These impacts span the entirety of trout habitats from within the stream itself to the uplands, thus my call for an ecosystem-spanning vision of native trout conservation.

I want to dedicate the time and effort necessary to make this blog something worth taking time out of your day to read.  In order to ensure that your time and mine are both well spent, I'm going to, at times, use this blog as a means of discussing the writing of the book manuscript.  I expect posts of this nature to be fairly spontaneous arising from the challenges, insights, or research I've been working on most recently to inform the post.  I will, of course, continue to write posts dedicated to fly fishing and conservation, the themes and purpose of this blog.

Thank you for taking a few minutes out of your day to spend with me and I look forward to continuing this journey as we enjoy the sport of fly fishing and the conservation of the trout and their habitats that make it possible.

Until next time,
Cheers!


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

Monday, October 19, 2015

Trout in the Autumn Wilderness

In northern Wyoming autumn is often a truncated season that serves only as harbinger to a protracted winter.  This fall has been unusually mild, allowing for more time on the water than I have any right to hope for.  As I prepare for the coming winter my mind is drawn back to my last wilderness fishing trip of the year.  In mid-September I traveled the nearly three hours from my home to the Cloud Peak Wilderness located in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming.  I had decided to spend the majority of this trip stalking waters far off trail.

Ascending the Forest Service road to the trailhead, I immediately noticed campgrounds were no longer filled to capacity with local and touring families, but instead with the signature walled tents that denoted hunting camps.  As I prepared my gear at the trunk of my car below the trailhead I wondered if I should have brought hunter orange with me, especially as I saw two hikers throw on their bright orange vests before taking off on the same trail I intended to use.  I rapidly decided that I would trust the hunters around me to be as sure of their shots as I am when in the field hunting big game.  Naive perhaps, but reassurance enough for me.


I was treated to quintessential wilderness solitude on this post-Labor Day hike.  As I worked two small off-trail drainages, intersecting the main trail only as necessary, I encountered a total of four people the entire day.  Not bad considering that during the summer you often can't go ten minutes, and definitely not an hour, without meeting a group of people on this particular trail.

Following game trails up the first drainage of the day reminded me of the thrill of wilderness in autumn.  Moving up-slope and upstream the forest around me was filled with the sound of moving bodies.  With the sharp snap of breaking branches and shaken foliage came the pungent ole-factory sensation that told me those unseen animals in motion around were big game and most likely elk.  Fresh scat confirmed this belief even though my eye never glimpsed them.  Of course, my eyes were more for the waters I was following than elk this day, but I would've been remiss if I hadn't stopped on the edge of a large clearing and watched intently for movement before moving across the clearing to reach the crystalline waters near its center.


Aspen and cottonwood are rare in the woods where I found myself that day when compared to the abundant evergreen species of the Bighorn Mountains.  But it was the vivid colors of the aspen and cottonwoods that drew my eye as I cast my fly upon cold wilderness waters.  Fall had already laid its hand upon the landscape at ten thousand feet in the Cloud Peak Wilderness.  Emerald leaves had cured to hues of gold, orange, and solitary reds, standing in wonderful foliar contrast to the dominant evergreens.  

The colors of the trout I pulled from the cold waters that day reflected the delicate beauty of the autumn wilderness and heralded the coming winter.







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

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Public Lands and an Angling Birthright

Public lands are an American birthright.  Too few American's are aware of this birthright and the treasures they hold for all.  Being a Wyoming native, public lands aren't simply dear to me, they are a part of my identity.  If you're reading this blog you likely do not fall into the enormous group of citizens who are largely unaware of the vast public lands that are not only open to them, but call to be cherished by ever more souls.

Sun sets on Lake Helen in Wyoming's Cloud Peak Wilderness
The local national park  or forest and the names of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Glacier National Park ring with hallowed reverence.  Living outside the western United States where the majority of the country's public land are found prevents far too many American's, particularly children, from fulfilling their birthright.  Too many are denied the opportunity to step foot into their public lands and exploring all they have to offer from recreation to ecology to spiritual fulfillment.

For anglers, public lands are also the home to cherished public waters.  While fishing regulations are the purview of the states, as long as the waters are found within public lands and hold fish, the opportunity to fish these waters is largely guaranteed.  The capacity to reach said waters is a different discussion entirely, particularly for waters in wilderness and other undeveloped landscapes- and thankfully so!

It has become a common refrain as of late for politicians from western states to call for the relinquishment of public lands from the federal government to the states.  Interestingly national parks are often exempt from this call... I suspect because national parks are economic cash cows for the states in which they are found.

The rub for anglers with proposals such as this are twofold.  First, large-scale relinquishment of public lands to the states is an assault on the American soul.  Such outcomes would deny ever more of the American public the opportunity to explore and connect with public lands, denying future generations the opportunity for discoveries of nature and the soul.  Second, state control and management of public lands is by no means a future guarantee of access to what would have previously been public waters.  Many states are required to manage public lands for maximum economic benefit, which would immediately put into play not only potential access restrictions, but would also see new water development project from dams to increased industrial withdrawal.  Both aspects of a reduction in the public domain are a cause for concern for anglers.

Calls for the federal government to surrender the public domain to others who believe they can better manage public lands are nothing new.  The Sagebrush Rebellion, the County Supremacy Movement, and the Wise-use Movement have all sought the same outcome in previous decades.  Sportsmen and women today, just as in decades past, stand as bulwarks against unsound proposals to deny us and all American's access to their birthright found in public lands.
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 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