My last post questioned--rather dramatically--whether conservation was dead? While there is concern that the conservation coalition has begun to fracture into tribes that will ultimately hinder on-the-ground conservation efforts, there is still hope. Today, my home state of Wyoming will serve as an example of collaboration that crosses boundaries between outdoor recreation and conservation advocates.
Last winter the Wyoming Game and Fish Department convened a series of meetings to seek local support in crafting a solution to native trout conservation. At the opening meeting biologists presented data that showed the continued decline of Yellowstone cutthroat trout broadly and then specifically in the Bighorn Basin; all of which had taken place since the fish was petitioned for inclusion on the Endangered Species List back in 2006 and found "not warranted".
Since that determination Wyoming has monitored the status of the Yellowstone cutthroat trout--and the data showed good reason for deep concern. The native trout of my home-waters was continuing to lose ground and trending ever closer to the possibility of extinction in their native waters.
This wasn't news to the men and women of the Wyoming Game and Fish. For years they had tried to institute numerous project to protect and, when possible, expand Yellowstone cutthroat trout in their native habitat. The success of their efforts were mixed at best. I wrote about one failure rather extensively in my book, Wyoming Mountains & Home-waters, that took place on a stretch of water deep in the wilderness outside Yellowstone National Park, known as Eagle Creek. But the Wyoming Game and Fish resolved to learn from their failure and in doing so sought out the public to help guide them in their conservation efforts.
Over the course of last winter the interested public came together again and again to work toward crafting a locally developed strategy for saving our native trout. After concluding the public workshops and studying the feasibility of the publicly produced recommendations, the Game and Fish released the output of their assessment of our labor. First, they recognized that local sentiment wanted them to protect currently existing populations of Yellowstone cutthroat trout rather than establishing new populations. Next, guided by that piece of locally determined advice, their team crafted a set of potential projects, ranking them according to feasibility. The Department promised to report back after the next field season to update everyone. That update landed in my inbox on October 22nd, 2018.
Throughout July and August, Game and Fish field crews surveyed numerous waters that were recommended by the public working group as possible locations for Yellowstone cutthroat trout conservation. In addition to traditional fish surveys to determine the species and numbers of fish found in the waters the team also assessed the likelihood of securing populations of native trout in those waters, which included considering things like existing natural barriers, the feasibility of installing man-made barriers, and when private landowners would need to be consulted on projects.
Ultimately, the report is evidence that not only is conservation alive, but that it can thrive even under the most arduous of social conditions. Just as importantly, it demonstrates the positive outcomes of bringing together people of different tribes. This wasn't the outcome of fly fishers, but of the larger fishing community. And not to be overlooked were the members of the public working group that weren't even anglers! With the right conditions conservation can heal some of the wounds that have struck society so deeply today. At this very moment nothing showcases this better than native trout conservation in my home state of Wyoming.
I would be remiss if I didn't close out today's post with a reminder that more information about my new book, Fly Fishing Wyoming's Cloud Peak Wilderness, will be coming soon!
Until next time,
Cheers & tight lines,