I can't say I'm surprised. But I am disappointed with news that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn't think Yellowstone National Park's famed cutthroat trout fishery is worth Endangered Species Act protection.
I've always believed that it's wiser to be proactive about something than reactive, and in this case it seems like the folks at Fish and Wildlife want to wait for Yellowstone's cutthroat fishery to collapse before they deem it worthy of help.
Just last fall Yellowstone fisheries biologists issued a paper saying that there could be a 60 percent decline in Yellowstone Lake's
native cutthroat trout population due to non-native lake trout predation. Why is
that a big deal? On one hand simply because the cutthroats are being wiped out.
On another, their loss goes much farther than a depleted fishery.
Cutthroats spawn in the
spring in Yellowstone Lake's 124 tributaries. During that spawn, they become
food for grizzly bears, bald eagles, osprey and many other species. Lake trout,
on the other hand, spawn in fall and in the lake, not in the tributaries, so
they are unavailable as a food source for terrestrial
Forty-two bird and animal species rely on
cutthroats for at least part of their diet. Already there have been studies that
discuss the loss of cutthroat trout on such species as grizzly bears, eagles and
Dr. Wayne Hubert, a fish biologist with the
Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit at the University of Wyoming, told me
that the conclusions of those reports "are that as the lake trout go up and the
cutthroat trout go down, the food supply for the terrestrial animals, that are
seasonally important, are going down, so there’s going to be some kind of
effect. That energy supply in the cutthroats in the springtime, when everything
else in a lot of other places is still covered up with snow, is pretty
important. It might only be for three or four weeks, but that’s a source of
Some background: Sometime back in the 1980s someone introduced lake
trout into Yellowstone Lake. About a decade ago park biologists became aware of
the lake trout invasion when people started catching them. Since then park
biologists have been running gill-netting operations to try to beat down the
lake trout population so the cutthroats can rebound.
To help with this gill-netting approach, a
graduate student at the University of Wyoming is working to produce a map of the lake's bottom so
researchers can pinpoint where lake trout spawn. That information could be used
to better focus gill-netting operations.
But that study has a few more years to run, so for now I guess we'll have to wait for the fishery to collapse before the Fish and Wildlife folks take some action.