In the past few posts, I have been discussing forestry roads and their impacts on the trout environment; and why this poses an ethical dilemma to us as anglers who use these roads. For years, the research has been telling us that trout habitat is degrading all across the west; and while angling pressure, climate change, pollution, disease and many other factors are all contributing to our diminishing populations, the overall consensus is that lack of suitable habitat is the main ‘over-arching’ threat to our native trout.
If you missed Parts 1 and 2, you can follow the links below to catch up:
So then, with the knowledge of the last two posts, it’s time to answer the important question. What can be done?
First off, I would be remiss if I did not mention the vast improvements in road construction and the regulatory processes in the past few decades. Things are beginning to change, and have improved markedly. Riparian buffer zones are enforced, logging is not allowed on fish bearing streams, and there is much more awareness about road-caused landslides and erosion. Further, many forestry companies are crucial partners for conservation work across both provinces. This not the works of one villain. There is no villain. Just a whole bunch of people, and companies, and governments, all with self-interest in mind. And a bunch of fish, who unfortunately bear the burden.
But here is what we know.
We know that roads in near proximity to a stream will lead to a lower frequency of pools. And we know that the number of pools is a limiting factor for Cutthroat Trout populations. We also know that climate change may lead to colder winter stream temperatures (due to earlier onset of spring freshet), and that this will lead to more ice formation, and limit the amount of pools that do not freeze. Making deep pools even more important as we move into the future.
We also know that industry is not going anywhere. Nor should it. It is the backbone of the economy in both BC and Alberta, and provides employment for thousands of people, and accounts for billions of dollars of GDP. We all wipe our ass, live in homes made of lumber, and use goods packaged in cardboard. We all heat our homes, drive cars, and fly across the world on vacations. Industry provides for us essential goods and services, and while its very easy to demonize industry, the reality is that even us conservationists are wholly dependent on industry and must accept that our high quality of life that we enjoy in this country is a direct result of these things.
So what to do?
I am of the mind that there is a middle ground here; and that if industry continues to grow, then the environmental sector must grow with it. Who is to say we can’t create economic opportunity in the form of conservation jobs? Site reclamation and re-forestation? Stream rehabilitation and environmental monitoring? Scientific research and thoughtful landscape scale planning? I suppose capitalism doesn’t make room for these sorts of economic sectors, because their value is intangible; intrinsic to the values we hold as Canadians, and not fixed to the price of a commodity.
The problem is that commodity prices to not account for the costs to the environment. A forestry company can completely destroy a creek, and that will not effect their bottom line. Teck can pollute and extirpate native trout populations (see here), and still profitably mine coal. It is time that industry started being held accountable and was forced to pay for the environmental costs. This might might make some remote forestry operations non-profitable; it may force the biggest offenders out of business; or at the very least it will create more jobs for environmental professionals.
Outside of that, we are pretty much reliant on our provincial governments and non-profit organizations (aka charitable donations) to administer any kind of conservation action. And while industry is getting billion dollar bailouts, there has been no effort made at all to deal with the degrading habitat in our trout streams. And the divide continues to grow.
Now, I don’t want to get overly political (which will be VERY difficult, considering this is a post about the politics of conservation). But since we are already getting political anyways, lets just say that I do NOT believe that our governments (particularly in Alberta) are allocating their resources properly, and are not doing enough to deal with underlying threat to our native trout; which is habitat loss.
For example: the UCP government just spent 43 million dollars to modernize 2 hatcheries and build a new hatchery. On the surface, this sounds great, and makes for great press clippings about how the government is investing in our fisheries. But did you know, in the COSEWIC status report on Cutthroat Trout, introduced species are listed as one of their primary threats? Introduced Brown, Brook, and Rainbow Trout have been displacing native Cutthroat Trout and Bull Trout all over our provinces. Hatchery fish are genetically inferior to native fish; most will not survive or reproduce naturally, and therefore, you have to keep stocking them. All the while adding way to much competition for the native fish to survive. The result is no more native fish, and fish stocks that require constant investment to maintain. Year after year, millions and millions spent on hatchery fish.
On the contrary, if you have stocks of native fish that are suffering due to habitat degradation, a simple one time investment to improve their habitat can allow that population to sustain itself, on their own, indefinitely. FOREVER! Remember, trout are resilient. They will persist, because they are genetically evolved to. The fish that are grown in hatcheries simply do not have this genetic ability to persist because they had no competition as juveniles; frankly, they arent REAL fish. I’m not saying hatcheries do not play a role in our fisheries; they provide excellent fishing opportunities in stocked ponds and lakes that never had fish in the first place, and these are great places to learn to fish. But they do absolutely nothing to protect our native fish, and in many circumstances, actually hinder their success.
Simply put, hatcheries are an investment in recreation, not conservation. However all across North America we continue to pump billions of dollars into hatchery programs, and continue to neglect the underlying problem.
Now, what if the UCP governement took that 43 million dollars and invested it in habitat upgrades instead? What if one critical rearing tributary of each ‘at risk’ population was extensively restored to provide more pool habitat? I believe that these kind of investments in habitat upgrades over time would lead to a significant bounce back in our native populations, and should be the focus of our fisheries managers.
But do these treatments work?
Yes! In a study done in 1991, V.A. Poulin conducted a study that monitored the changes to streams when applied with Large Woody Debris treatments. The results were higher pool frequencies in all reaches treated, a subsequent increase in fish abundance in 3 of 4 treated streams, and better habitat parameters all around. The average cost, per pool was around $400. By my math, that means the 43 million dollars could have created more than 100,000 pools!
Other treatments have proved to be successful, such as willow staking and replanting the banks to stop erosion, like the work done on the North Raven and Dogpound Creek by TUC, as well as off-channel pool creation.
The BC government has perhaps done more to conserve their native fisheries, and have undertaken some significant stream rehabilitation projects, however Salmon and Steelhead fisheries take the spotlight away from Cutthroat and Bull Trout fisheries and much more can be done in the interior. Here’s a link to learn more about stream rehabilation in BC .
Point being, stream rehabilitation can be as simple as adding logs to the stream course and tying them off to an anchor so they stay put. And since the majority of compromised reaches are the ones in near proximity to roads, access should not be a problem. Surely, with the investment of a few million each year, we could begin to see meaningful upgrades?
One can only dream.
In the meantime, local non-profit organizations are working hard to achieve these goals, and are responsible for most of the stream rehab projects happening currently. The single biggest thing you can do to improve stream habitat is DONATE to TUC (you can do that here), or volunteer for one of their projects and make improvements on the ground, with the help of passionate people who continue to fight for our fisheries.
It is time for a mindset change, in both Alberta and BC. We cannot continue to develop industry without thought for our natural ecosystems. There IS an environmental cost; one that has been unacknowledged for far too long. And if we continue with business as usual, without investing in habitat upgrades, our trout will continue to die a death from a thousand cuts, until all we have left are hatchery fish.
Trout are something we all relate to, cause we interact with them as anglers; but they are only one example of endangered wildlife dying the same, slow death. Cariboo, Grizzly Bears, Wolverines, and many more; all have been heavily impacted by these scars on our landscape, by the roads that penetrate our wilderness, and the incessant, ceaseless fragmentation by humans. And all of these species may be completely gone from our landscape by the end of the century, unless we take action NOW to protect them. And I don’t want my kids and grandkids to be denied the opportunity to catch a wild Cutthroat trout in a beautiful mountain stream, or to see a Grizzly Bear in it’s natural habitat. I don’t want to tell them stories about what it used to be like.
I want to tell them how together we rallied to save our wild trout and our wild places, for many, many generations to come.
Thank you everyone for reading. I have loved hearing all your comments, insights, and concerns, and it means a lot to me to be able to connect with you. Pretty soon, we will actually be fishing our high country. And I hope these posts have given you something to think about as you kick up dust and gravel on a forestry road, in pursuit of a beautiful Native Trout.
As always, please send me an email if you would like to chat!