Al Campbell, Field Editor

July 29th, 2002

A Prayer for Restoration
By Al Campbell

There is a simple fact that can't be ignored. Fish need water to live. Unfortunately, many of the fish that once lived in the Black Hills are dead as I write this. Several of our most productive streams have dried up completely, and a few others have dropped so low, and warmed up so much that the trout in those streams have all died.

The animal rights and some of the environmental folks call this "nature's way." They claim it's better than allowing the fish to suffer the pain of being hooked and removed from the water. I don't know about you, but I think it's a far worse way to die than the swift dispatch a caring angler can deliver. I guess I just don't understand the thought process of some folks.

June was the driest June on record for this area. If the dry spell continues, there'll be more stories of dry creeks and thousands of fish lost to the drought. One of my favorite streams is a rocky bed that's dry as a bone. The prolific stonefly hatch is gone, and their offspring are gone with them. The August caddis hatch is history.

I realize that there was nothing any of us could have done to save the fish. It's all part of the way nature works. If we're lucky, fires won't take the vegetation too. Looking at the number of fires we're having this year, that's a distinct possibility, but I'll keep my fingers crossed.

When water finally graces the streambed again, the plan for recovery involves something some people are strongly opposed to. The stream will be planted with hatchery fish that will be allowed to reproduce, repopulate the flows, and hopefully restore a naturally bred population of fish in a few years. Sometimes hatcheries are useful tools for recovery. In this case, they are the only tools that will get the job done sufficiently to allow trout fishing in my lifetime.

Personally, I'm all for it. Put fish back in a stream that normally supports a good population of browns and rainbows, allow that population to breed and repopulate the stream, and get back to fishing as soon as possible. At least that's the way I view it.

Unfortunately, somebody's going to complain. In fact, the dialog has already started. You see, trout aren't native fish to the Black Hills. Restoring trout to the streams would challenge the native species (several types of minnows) that should be restored and allowed to exist the way they did before man's intervention in the first place. To plant a non-native species would challenge the bio-diversity of the natural theme of the Black Hills. At least that's what a couple of groups believe.

We have reached a point where non-native anything isn't accepted by several groups who supposedly monitor the health of our environment and animals. In some cases, they have a point. Non-native species like the zebra mussel and several species of fish have had a serious impact in this country. The brown snake devastated the bird populations in the Philippines. Exotic species of wildlife changed the landscape of New Zealand forever. In fact, look at the impact that trout had on the economy of New Zealand alone.

Oops, maybe some exotic species like trout aren't all that bad? Fishermen who travel to places like New Zealand, Argentina and Chile, and the rocky mountain west in this country might agree with that idea. But, there are a few groups who would say that introduced fish challenge the bio-diversity of the streams and threaten the native species that live there. They point to the Zebra Mussel and others as evidence that they are right. That is the battle that might be brewing here.

I'm sure this problem, like everything else those watchdog groups believe in will be fought out in court. In my opinion, it isn't reasonable to expect the Black Hills to return to the way they were before General Custer rode his horse through these hills, but that is the goal of some people. Once again, judges and lawyers, not fisheries managers, will likely decide the outcome and future of several of our streams. In the mean time, I'll be waiting with my fly rod in my hand and a prayer of hope on my lips. ~ AC

Previous Al Campell Columns

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