Public Lands & Waters photo

Situated in far northwestern Nevada just south of the Oregon border, Blue Lakes are the only alpine lakes in the region, and their value to anglers in the area is immeasurable. But, perhaps more importantly, is the value to the region for sportsmen all over America—it’s perhaps the best region to visit if you’re a chukar hunter, and if you’re interested in mule deer, pronghorn or bighorn sheep hunting, this is the corner of Nevada you’ll want to hit in search of big game.

Presently, the Pine Forest Range, including the Blue Lakes, is dotted by Bureau of Land Management wilderness study areas. Some of these areas might warrant that wilderness designation, but others are likely better off being released from WSA designation to allow for some much-needed conservation work that is simply not allowed in WSAs.

This is prime sage grouse country that is threatened now by invasive vegetation—primarily cheat grass, which is the first vegetation, native or exotic, to establish itself after a disturbance, like a fire, for instance. Recovery work in WSAs is limited, which means a WSA impacted by an exotic vegetation invasion can’t be adequately treated.

The lakes themselves provide a high-quality backcountry fishing experience in a designated wilderness study area, with rainbow trout and the unusual tiger trout (a sterile hybrid of a brook trout and brown trout) on the angling menu. An open shoreline lends itself to sight-casting to surprisingly big trout, and it’s a modest hike, meaning toting a float tube into the lakes is not unheard of. Presently TU and Field & Stream are working with local sportsmen, elected officials and agency staff to reconsider the WSA situation in this region, with the hopes of protecting Blue Lakes and the watersheds that drain off the Pine Forest Range—many of these streams have the potential for Lahontan cutthroat trout reintroduction.

As it is, the area is a destination for upland bird hunters who love to chase the wily chukar, and for many, that’s enough to warrant protection. Throw in the fishing component, and Blue Lakes and the Pine Forest Range are high-quality sporting destinations that deserve long-term protection.

What’s in Blue Lakes and the Pine Forest Range?
Fishing assets: Rainbow trout, brown trout, Lahontan cutthroat trout, brook trout, tiger trout.
Hunting assets: Chukar, sage grouse, mule deer, bighorn sheep,
Other: This is a recreational paradise for desert-loving hikers, cyclists and off-road enthusiasts.

Threats: This area is threatened by a cheat grass invasion that has surpassed epidemic proportions. Additionally, unsustainable populations of wild horses and burros overgraze the fragile desert flora.

Also, limitations on what can be done to improve or recover wildlife habitat in designated wilderness study areas hinder any large-scale efforts to make habitat more welcoming to important game animals.