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