As this is the 4th of July, and a time to celebrate all things distinctly American, I ask this: How do you feel about cutthroat trout? Maybe more to the point, how would you feel if, in order to save the existence of cutthroat trout, wildlife officials decidided to poison a river… killing an abundant population of rainbow trout, brown trout, and/or brook trout in the process, in order to save the cutthroats in their native habitat?
Truth is, a lot of those trout we’ve come to love and admire from coast to coast aren’t “native” fish at all. Browns? Introduced from Europe (German browns, and Loch Laven strains from Scotland). Rainbows? A Pacific Northwest species. All of us steelheaders in the Great Lakes (and salmon fishers also) aren’t catching native species. We know that.
For that matter, all the tailwater trout junkies (myself certainly included) fishing the South Platte in Colorado, or the Madison in Montana, or Lees Ferry on the Colorado River in Arizona, or the Delaware in New York, or the White River in Arkansas, are reaping the rewards of artificial, manmade environments that happen to favor introduced species of trout.
Is that wrong?
I don’t necessarily think so. But I also think there’s something special about finding and catching a species that swam in American rivers before the time of Columbus. And, by my book, it’s worth doing what we can to keep them around. Think about it… Lewis and Clark ascended the valley of the Missouri over 200 years ago… and they saw vast herds of bison on the land, and caught trout–cutthroat trout–by the bushel as they explored. Sadly, the bison and the cutthroat have both been decimated to the point that they are now almost novelties…
Of course, if you argue on behalf of the cuttie, you almost have to do the same for other non-sportfish species like the humpback chub and pike minnow… all natives… all pressured to the brink by human manipulation of the environment.
So what’s it going to be? Natural selection (including the influence of humans), or preservation at all costs?
I’m heading into the high country. The backcountry of Colorado, where I hope to catch and experience the majesty of cutthroat trout with my friends from Trout Unlimited. Truthfully, I’d trade 100 20-inch tailwater rainbows for just one 10-inch greenback cuttie. But that’s me. What say you?