A little while back, Jim Van Loan at the Steamboat Inn recommended I read Gordon Sullivan’s new book, Saving Homewaters: The Story of Montana’s Streams and Rivers — and it is a must-read for Oregon anglers looking for ideas for saving our own watersheds.
One of the great aspects of Montana’s fisheries management is the early emphasis of science based decisions for optimizing trout populations. For example, a 1954 study of the Gallatin showed that removal of streamside brush by property owners reduced trout weight by 40%. A study like that in Oregon could shape policy — keep cattle from stomping and shitting in our streams, keep riverside homeowners from mowing down riparian zones for better views from their BBQ decks.
The other aspect that Montana has right is assigning an economic recreational value on wild fisheries. Montana’s “Blue Ribbon” designation is much like the values placed on tarpon and sailfish in the tropics to convince governments to keep economically important gamefish from being harvested for fertilizer.
Montana fisheries managers also realized early on that put-and-take trout planting hurts native fish: Every river has a limited amount of energy it can produce in the form of food for aquatic life. Pollution, siltation, increased water temperature, and dewatering by irrigation or drought all play significant roles as trout species compete with one another for available food. In lay terms, the equation is: More competition requires more expenditure of physical energy, leading to less growth. Older larger trout, especially wild rainbows, browns and cutthroats, simply cannot compete as effectively with younger, more aggressive feeders like stocked trout.
The simple fact revealed by the multiyear research project was that increasing the trout population with planted fish meant increased competition. It was particularly clear that increasing the population during summer, the peak feeding season, achieved nothing more than to divide an already limited food source among too many mouths.
Does that sound like anywhere familiar?
Sullivan makes another point that we in Oregon need to take to heart: Historically, amateur warriors have carried the torch when it comes to protecting the environment, and generally their strongest enemy has not been the vampires of industry but the federal and state agencies we have entrusted to protect our rights.