Trout and salmon conservation starting upstream helps keep water flowing downstream, even during times of drought
State-of-the-art water management in the West can help ensure ample water supplies and quality fishing, even during prolonged times of drought across the region, according to Trout Unlimited scientists and organizers who work with anglers and hunters to protect habitat, reconnect watersheds and restore degraded rivers and streams.
For instance, collaborative restoration work with private landowners in the Maggie Creek watershed in Nevada has resulted in healthier habitat, more water for ranch operations, and more water for native Lahontan cutthroat trout.
“Mostly through a combination of improved grazing strategies and some fencing we’ve seen huge increases in stream-side vegetation, an influx of beavers creating storage ponds, and increasing water clarity and flows,” said Helen Neville, a TU research scientist. “This work has also increased the number of native Lahontan cutthroat trout – so it’s a win-win situation for people and the fish, and has helped agencies and the ranchers establish a foundation of trust that wasn’t there previously.
“Now,” Neville continued, “we’re trying to get this win-win message out more broadly by initiating a conservation ranching program, and holding forums to bring ranchers together to share information on ways to improve habitat while still working their land.”
Also in Nevada, TU is working with mining companies to reduce the impacts of mine operations on water quality and supplies, especially “legacy” impacts from old, abandoned mines.
“Especially in periods where our water supplies are reduced, we need to make sure what water we have is clean enough for both trout and human use,” said TU’s Nevada Abandoned Mines Coordinator Mike Caltagirone.
In California, which is in the midst of its most severe drought in memory, similar efforts to align the interests of farmers and anglers are resulting in cooperative agreements that make fishing better and keep water flowing for agriculture and downstream users.
“TU is leading the way on cooperative programs to increase water supply reliability and stream flows for both people and fish,” said Brian Johnson, director of TU’s California Program. “With a little foresight, the things that farmers and ranchers and anglers want to do tend to line up well.”
But it all starts in the high country, where winter snows provide the bulk of the West’s summer water supply, even in dry years like this one.
“At TU, we view our work on a basin-wide scale,” said Dave Glenn, intermountain region director for TU’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project. “All of the work we do downstream to restore and reconnect watersheds on private land starts on mostly public lands in the high country, where healthy streams and meadows provide cold, clean water for both fish and for downstream users, like farmers, ranchers and municipalities.
“Protecting these places,” Glenn continued, “helps ensure good water flows and clean water downstream.”
Glenn referenced a grass-roots effort in northwest Nevada to protect the Pine Forest Range, which is home to quality fisheries like Blue Lakes and Onion Reservoir. The campaign to protect much of this quality upstream habitat—a collaborative effort involving anglers, hunters, off-road vehicle enthusiasts and ranchers—resulted in a bill now in Congress that will protect as wilderness some of the best fish and game habitat in the upper reaches of the Pine Forest Range, while releasing some wilderness study areas in the region’s lower-elevation country from restrictive management, allowing for multiple uses, including the expansion of rangeland for ranchers.
“It’s truly a win-win for everybody,” Glenn said. “Cold, clean fishable water stays in the high country longer, making for better fishing. Downstream, our conservation efforts help ranchers and municipalities by providing more stable sources of clean water, even during dry years like this year.”
Logo courtesy Trout Unlimited