Monday, April 20, 2015

Trout Unlimited: The Champion of Coldwater Conservation

It occurred to me this weekend as I was drawing together ideas for this week's post that I have never taken the time to discuss the gold standard in coldwater conservation, Trout Unlimited.

Established in Grayling, Michigan in 1959, sixteen prescient anglers had a vision of trout streams filled with wild trout rather than hatchery produced clones dumped from the back of trucks.  Since its establishment the nonprofit organization has grown into the nation's largest coldwater conservation organization with a focus on those things most important to anglers- healthy habitat and wild trout.

I've been a member of Trout Unlimited in different capacities for nearly a decade. I've been a dues paying volunteer member in my home state of Wyoming as well as Montana and New Hampshire.  While attending graduate school in New Hampshire I had the great fortune to serve as a Conservation Director for the local Trout Unlimited chapter.

As conservation organizations go Trout Unlimited is a soft-spoken organization.  It allows its accomplishments to speak for it rather than lawsuits or hyperbole filled press releases.  Whether its restoring locally nominated favorite waters through its "Embrace a Stream" program or engaging school children with the "Trout in the Classroom" curriculum, Trout Unlimited is at the forefront of protecting the resources we love most.

I encourage you to take a look at all the work Trout Unlimited has accomplished, the tremendous number conservation and science programs they oversee, and see if there is a local chapter near you.
Swift River, New Hampshire

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Has the Wild and Scenic River Act failed?

Yesterday the Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks announced that it is likely again safe to eat fish in the Yellowstone River following the recent oil spill following a break in a pipeline that stretches beneath the river. The announcement has given me cause to again revisit the injustice at how few miles of our cherished waters in the U.S. are designated as either Wild or Scenic.

I discussed Wild and Scenic Rivers in an earlier post and today again revisit the Yellowstone River to examine why the designation is so important.  The Yellowstone River is the last remaining great undammed river in the lower 48 States.  That only 20.5 miles of the great river, all of which is contained in the Clark's Fork, are designated Wild & Scenic is a conservation travesty.  The recent, and I should mention reoccurring, oil spills that have plagued the Yellowstone provide more than enough incentive to push for much more of the river to be designated as either Wild or Scenic by Congress.  If all we can protect of the great and mighty Yellowstone River is a paltry 20.5 miles then we have failed to take advantage of the opportunities and protections offered our cherished waters under the Wild &Scenic Rivers Act.

I reflect on this as we yet again clean-up another oil spill along a cherished river and wonder if the Wild & Scenic River Act has failed or if we've failed to capitalize on the spirit of the Act?

Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River
I recently posted a set of picture to my Facebook page  from my hike along the Wild and Scenic Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River in Wyoming on the first day of Spring.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Rivers, Oil Spills, and Clean Water

A recent local newspaper article examined the impacts of development within river corridors through the lens of recent oil spills resulting from breaches of the oil pipeline that runs under the Yellowstone River near Billings, Montana.

Gushing oil in the Yellowstone River, the longest undammed river remaining in America, unfortunately illustrates only one of many cumulative impacts to our cherished rivers.  Toxic chemicals, nutrient pollution, dams, dredging, riparian development up to the edge of rivers, the loss of floodplains- all of these threats cumulatively impact the waters we love and that we love to fish. If you were to put your drift boat in at the mountain headwaters of your favorite river and float to its terminus at the ocean it spills to, you would encounter greater and greater damage as you moved downstream.

This is not to say that development, technology, or society are incompatible with health rivers and clean water.  Instead, many of our cherished waters are approaching or have already reached a tipping point.  In many cases the tipping point may be water that is undrinkable, may not be safely allow for swimming, or the fish successfully pulled from the waters eaten, in short falling far short of the goals of the Clean Water Act.  We have reached a point in our societal path where we need to examine with open eyes and open minds the trade-offs that exist between continued development of our waters and conservation of such a limited resource, an examination that hopefully is informed by our love of the sport of fly fishing.

The Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River near Clark, Wyoming

Monday, March 30, 2015

Fishing without a Pole

On the first day of Spring I found myself spending the unseasonably warm day fishing without a pole.  Perhaps more accurately, I spent the weekend on trails nears some of my favorite waters in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming.  I call this fishing without a pole as even though I wasn't casting a line my thoughts were tied to my home waters as I logged mile after mile on two different trails.

The first trail paralleled the Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River.  The route I followed is the Morrison Jeep Trail and offers access to superb water and splendid scenery.  On this particular day there was no ATV traffic to contend with, which if you are interested in taking the trail and want at least a modicum of peace, I recommend hiking the route between December and April in order to reduce the amount of ATV traffic you encounter.
Looking west into Clark's Fork Canyon along the Morrison Jeep Trail

During the course of the day I encountered a small herd of Big Horn Sheep as well as a numerous small herds of mule deer, much to my surprise.  I walked the length of the ATV route, about five miles, until the trail began ascending the canyon wall.  The ATV path zig-zags up the canyon wall and allows you access to the Beartooth Plateau above, but this wasn't for me today.  Instead I continued following a footpath upon which ATV traffic was barred by a wrought iron fence and gate.  Little to my knowledge the trail continued for what a little less than a mile before terminating as the sheer canyon walls pushed out to meet the edge of the water.  I had hoped to cover a bit more distance before turning back to return on the same route I came, but alas it was not to be.
Warning sign before beginning the ascent from the bottom of Clark's Fork Canyon.

While my trip had met its half-way point, I was pleasantly surprised by the new potential fishing holes I'd found as well as a most interesting collection of trees that gathered together in a small copse on my side of the river.  The little riverine community included Englemann spruce, limber pine, and juniper.  Juxtaposed against the sheer rock cliffs and the river the grove offered the perfect spot from which to eat lunch and consider the Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone, fly fishing, ATVs, public lands, and the multitude of issues and conflicts that surround each.  In short, it was like fishing without a pole.

End of the trail as river meets rock

Friday, March 13, 2015

Currently Reading- The Creation: an appeal to save life on earth

Once again world renowned biologist E.O. Wilson leaves his mark on the world, this time through his book The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth.  Through chapters that are structured as letters addressed to a Pastor, Professor Wilson seeks to empower secular and Christian readers to find common ground while he issues a clarion call for humanity to acknowledge and respond to mankind's biosphere-spanning environmental impacts.

Gently, but with clear purpose Professor Wilson addresses head-on the divergent worldviews of Christianity and secularists then utilizes science to its fullest potential.  Dr. Wilson presents, chapter-by-chapter, the cumulative impacts that industrialized society has wreaked on the globe providing numerous examples based on his deep background as an entomologist.  Purposefully, the reader is guided through myriad ecosystems to view with detail the globe-spanning issues and impacts that we must address if we are to have any chance at all of maintaining society at the current standard of living and while also maintaining our fragile environmental security.

Having only completed the first two sections of the book I'm looking forward with both interest and trepidation to the remaining three.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Endangered Species Act & Fly Fishing

More than forty years after its inception the Endangered Species Act has contributed mightily to the protection of the nation's coldwater fisheries.  While oft-times criticized for its economic impacts as a result of curtailing development, there can be no discounting the biological and economic benefits that have flowed as a result of maintaining native species in their historic ranges.  Nevertheless, many challenges remain for native salmonids across the United States.

Our coldwater fisheries have become biologically impoverished as a result of the loss of native trout and salmon that have either been diminished in their native habitat or have blinked out of existence following Euro-American expansion across the country.  Both the Yellowfin cutthroat trout and the Alvord cutthroat trout are today presumed to be extinct.  The Endangered Species Act has been leveraged to ensure that our remaining native trout and salmon fauna do not succumb to the same fate as the Yellowfin and Alvord cutthroat trout.

Seemingly relentless pressures from land development, water development, pollution, and the stocking of non-natives have pushed many native trout species to the brink of extinction.  As a result of these continuing pressures the Endangered Species Act is currently offering protection to a host of trout species that include:
·         Little Kern golden trout (threatened)
·         Apache trout (threatened)
·         Lahontan cutthroat trout (threatened)
·         Paiute cutthroat trout (threatened)
·         Rio Grande cutthroat trout (candidate for listing)
·         Greenback cutthroat trout (threatened)
·         Gila trout (threatened)
·         Bull trout (threatened)

Not to be overlooked are the numerous Pacific salmon runs that have also been designated as threatened or endangered under the ESA.

Yellowfin and Alvord cutthroat trout have both been lost to the world.  They can neither be appreciated by those who simply love the natural world or those of us whose connection to the natural world is strongest when holding a fly rod in our hand.  Forty years after becoming the paragon of conservation legislation the Endangered Species Act working to ensure waters that we love do not become increasingly biologically impoverished.The Endangered Species Act has too often been maligned as a hindrance to progress.  

If the last forty plus years have taught us anything when it comes to the protection of trout and salmon species it is that the protections offered by the Endangered Species Act have been well worth the investment. In ensuring that native species continue to inhabit their native habitats the ESA is also promoting the sport of fly fishing by allowing anglers the unique opportunity to pursue trout and salmon within their native habitats.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Currently reading: Year of the Big Fires: The Story of the Great Fires of 1910

It's been a longtime since I last checked out a book from the public library, but research does occasionally pull me in to the doors of the Park County Library (Cody, WY).  Looking for some specific material, I have since become hooked into Stephen J. Pyne's Year of the Fires (Viking Press).  The tale of the conflagrations that shaped fire policy in the U.S. for nearly a century as well as much of the culture of the Forest Service is an engrossing story.  From the personal stories of those who lived through the inferno to the communities and agencies that sought to respond to the disaster as it unfolded, the story of each is compellingly told.  It is unfortunate that an event such as this has become largely forgotten when the scars and impacts continue to be felt in contemporary natural resource management.