On day one of our Best Wild Places adventure in the White River drainage of Colorado, Aaron Kindle, Chris Herrman and I went trout fishing on the upper-middle section of the main stem of the White River. This middle section meanders through a valley of expansive ranches. Indeed, private landowners control much of this water, and access is restricted. However, the Colorado Division of Wildlife has secured a number of quality easements, and there are state wildlife areas that afford access to quality trout water as well.
We pulled off by a bridge, slipped on our wades and hiked down to the river where we immediately noticed a number of small trout sipping dry flies in the shade of the bridge. The White runs clear and clean throughout the late summer and fall, and prolific hatches of mayflies, as well as hordes of grasshoppers are found in the tall brush along the bank.
I cast a small Parachute Adams in the riffle and connected with a 14-inch rainbow trout on the third cast. I released the fish back into the water and smiled at Hermann. That’s when I first heard the chop-chop-chop of a helicopter banking and turning over the hills. It buzzed directly over our heads and glided down for a landing at a nearby ranch.
Apparently one of the valley’s newest (and wealthiest) residents had popped in for a little fishing getaway. I asked Herrman about the influx of money in the region, and the way that changes the fishery, for better or worse.
Herrman–who handles TU’s outreach efforts to private landowners in the region, securing conservation easements and so forth–admitted that it is a good news-bad news situation. “On the one hand,” he said, “having river miles in the hands of people who care about the fishing, even for their own private use, is a positive thing for the system. We know that fish migrate throughout the river, and good habitat ultimately enhances the overall fishery, even in areas where most people will never wade.”
“On the other hand,” he continued, “building giant homes right along the river bank can destroy important riparian habitat. So we have to be diligent in working cohesively among all private and public interests to ensure things are done responsibly, with the big picture in mind.”
Herrman added that the same theory applies to the elk herds in the region that rely on the river valley as a winter range. Keeping open spaces connected (“connective corridors”) in a way that extends from the high country (summer range) through the valley floor (winter range) is vital to the overall health and populations of elk in the region, and private landowners–especially those with a vested conservation/outdoor interest–are vital to maintaining that system.
“It’s about balancing high impact and low impact activities with the issue of access and no access,” concluded Herrman.