Thursday, May 28, 2015

Yellowstone's Fishing Bridge & Native Trout

This Memorial Day weekend my wife and I took our two year old daughter to Yellowstone National Park.  We entered the Park through the east entrance that leads directly to Fishing Bridge.  It is here where once anglers congregated to pull plump Yellowstone cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri) from the water with reckless abandon.  Alas, such was the times, but times have changed.

Today the waters of the Yellowstone River that flow beneath Fishing Bridge are closed to angling to protect the native Yellowstone cutthroat trout.  If you've had the opportunity to visit Yellowstone National Park you know that vast portions of the pristine Yellowstone River along with nearly every other water in the Park are open to receive a fly (in season of course).

I like to walk across Fishing Bridge and take in the scenery, but my eyes always stray to the river itself.  I'm searching for the native trout holding in the beautiful waters below.  On the first day of our visit the waters were a bit off color, likely from the recent and repeated rainfall we'd been having over the last week.  The second day brought sight of a pod of Yellowstone cutthroat trout holding together in the waters below us; each one was a bruiser in its own right.  I counted a total of six fish in the pod and saw no others during my brief scan of the waters as I stalked across Fishing Bridge.

The illegal introduction of nonnative lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) have decimated the native cutthroat trout population.  I chalk up seeing only a half dozen fish this visit as a result of lake trout depredation that continues to plague the resident cutthroat trout.  The Park Service continues actively working to suppress the lake trout in Yellowstone Lake which may improve native cutthroat trout numbers.  The view from Fishing Bridge will surely be improved as native trout rebound and once again fill their ecological role in the Yellowstone River that runs beneath the bridge.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Trout, Trees and Grizzlies

Here in Yellowstone country the topic or grizzly bears (Ursus arctos horriblus) has received considerable attention as of late.  The Greater Yellowstone Coordinating Committee held its annual meeting here in Cody, WY, and the topic of grizzly bears made the front cover of the two local newspapers.

Why grizzly bears and why now?  The Fish and Wildlife Service is again working toward removing the Greater Yellowstone's grizzly bear population from the protections of the Endangered Species Act. The Greater Yellowstone grizzly population was delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 2009, but was subsequently placed back on the list as 'threatened' after a successful court challenge from environmental groups.  

The  argument that resulted in returning the grizzly population in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem  to the Endangered Species List was an ecological argument.  While the population was growing and filling in the available habitat, its existence was far from secure as two of the bear's food sources were under threat- whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) trees from climate change and Yellowstone cutthroat trout (YCT) (Oncorhynchus clarki bouvieri) from the introduction of lake trout (Salvelinus namaycush) to Yellowstone Lake.

Whitebark have fallen prey to drought, fire, and most importantly the Mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) epidemic that has been recognized by public land managers and scientists as unprecedented in its scale.

Yellowstone lake was once recognized as the "stronghold" for native Yellowstone cutthroat trout, but a breach in that citadel was discovered in 1994, the result of an illegal introduction of lake trout that have consumed YCT at a voracious rate.  The National Park Service has noted at least some success in curbing these nonnative predators as lake trout numbers have decline, but it is extremely unlikely that lake trout will ever be fully removed from Yellowstone Lake.

Trout, trees, and grizzlies- together the weave a beautiful ecological web.  In this instance they also serve to inform us of the multiple stresses on what is considered one of the most pristine ecosystems in the lower forty-eight states, and right now the debate over grizzly bears highlights the difficulty of managing for a single strand of this ecological web when all others are interconnected and affected.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Man's Best Fishing Friend

Trout Unlimited's most recent issue of Trout magazine (Spring 2015) included a short essay that laid bare the emotional attachment so many of us have for our four-legged fishing (and hunting) partners. Christopher Camuto opens his heart with pen and ink allowing us a peak into the the enduring relationship that  man and dog build as together we traverse the more wild parts of the landscape and our emotional selves.

Snickers the fishing dachshund

 I never would have guessed that an eight pound miniature dachshund was destined to become my best friend and favorite fishing companion.  While afflicted by a mild fear of water (at little over half a foot tall at the shoulder who could blame him), Snickers would faithfully follow me up and down the stream bank as I waded.

Getting out of the stream
Over the last nine years Snickers has followed my footsteps as I worked waters across the country.  Never patient, he would scour the banks in search of entertainment, but would never stray far.  He always kept me within sight and was always at my heels whenever I left the water.  After a long day of fishing and exploring he has always been a welcome addition to my lap in front of a campfire.

Camouflage Dachshund
Just as Christopher detailed the aging and eventual loss of his four-legged friend in his piece in Trout, so has Snickers begun to age and become more inclined to wait for me at camp rather than follow me along the stream.  I miss having my black-and-tan friend greet me with a wag of his tail and a sharp bark as I step from the stream; he now waits patiently for my return and is the first to greet me when I return to camp.