Hope and Reality: Trying to Hold onto Both

by Quinn Grover on July 9, 2011

in River - YNP - Yellowstone, Still Waters - Yellowstone, Yellowstone National Park

One of my favorite fishing memories was a drive-all-night trip to Yellowstone with some college buddies that landed us on the Yellowstone River in the park, fishing caddis dries to rising cutthroat. The fish and the water were beautiful and I remember thinking to myself that I must to come back this place again and again.

But I’ve never been back because the fishing has, by all accounts, dropped off—you know the story I am sure, lake trout eating cutthroats, bucket biologists, etc. I hold out hope and continue to monitor the fight against lakers in Yellowstone Lake. I want to fish the river again and I want to fish the lake when the cutts are in near the shoreline. I’ve read stories of that fishing and it sounds great.

I read the YNP Native fish plan* and was equally depressed by the background of the situation and hopeful of the plans to step up the effort. Thanks to a link by Troutsmith, I recently read a summary update from the Yellowstone Lake Science panel, which includes representation from Wyoming TU.

*Side note: check out friend of Chi Wulff John Juracek’s opinion on a non-lake trout portion of the plan [add link] over that Blue Ribbon Flies blog.  

Once again I was equal parts depressed and hopeful. The depression stems from this comment:

The bad news is that the cutthroat numbers, which is the ultimate metric of success for this program, appear to be at an all time low. Additionally, we also have made almost zero progress on two important fronts: a telemetry study to identify spawning areas for lake trout and reconstruction of the Clear Creek weir

The hopes stems from the fact that the panel seems to believe in the plan itself, which is essentially stepping up the gillnetting program to really do some lake trout damage.

A troubling undertone of the article seems to be the idea that the National Park Service (NPS) has not always been willing to do what it takes to save the cutthroat in Yellowstone Lake. Maybe I am reading between the lines too much, but several comments such as the line “I think everyone felt more encouraged than we did in 2008…” and the statement that NPS has funds to fix a weir on one of the lake’s tributaries yet seems to be dragging their feet on doing the actual work, give me pause.

Perhaps it’s the fact that I just finished Anders Halverson’s An Entirely Synthetic Fish, which details the hatchery dissemination of the rainbow trout and all the resulting fallout (which is especially meaningful to me because the fallout is playing out on several of my local rivers). Halverson’s book paints most of the federal and state fish and game organizations (and other federal entities including NPS) as all too happy to dump hatchery fish in rivers with no real thought as to how such decisions will affect the ecosystem. Admittedly, the real champions of that kind of short-sightedness are long dead, but it seems at times that the mentality lives on (check out Halverson’s discussion of the hatchery truck mentality that is still pervasive in Colorado).

Anyway, this post has sort of veered all over the road. But I am okay with that. In fact, I’ll end by taking the discussion in another direction. I hope that the efforts to save the native cutts are successful. And at the same time, I am cautious about any efforts we make to try and control or change the natural order. I’ve written before that conservation is complex, even though we don’t really want it to be. Halverson makes the point at the end of his book that we must be humble about our efforts to do the right thing when it comes to our conservation effort, because we can’t really be sure about out our choices. There may be variables in play we haven’t considered yet. Those who planted rainbows in every piece of moving water they could find were certain they were doing the country a favor. And I would bet that the bucket biologists who dropped lake trout in Yellowstone Lake felt the same way. Let’s hope that we make things better as we try to fix the mistakes of our past, but be realistic that there is always the possibility of making things worse.