Protecting bull trout

It didn’t really need one more headline to convince anyone that we are into a plague of public and private vandalism against trout streams. But the front page Mary-Ann Barr story, “Trout Stream at Risk,” and shocking pictures in the August 22nd issue of The Red Deer Advocate hit me hard, reviving long-lost memories of a former paradise that is now being destroyed.

It didn’t really need one more headline to convince anyone that we are into a plague of public and private vandalism against trout streams.

But the front page Mary-Ann Barr story, “Trout Stream at Risk,” and shocking pictures in the August 22nd issue of The Red Deer Advocate hit me hard, reviving long-lost memories of a former paradise that is now being destroyed.

The sub-head to The Advocate’s story offers a good summary: “People illegally driving their off-highway vehicles near Fall Creek are damaging an important bull trout spawning area.”

Ahhhh … Fall (or Falls) Creek. Many years ago, about this time of year, a few anglers would find their way in to the alpine meadow creek that is a tributary to the Ram River.

Once in a while someone would have to lug an early spawner, 10 lbs. or so, out of there.

The trick was getting in there … the first time.

Rumour had it that the odd gent or two had driven their 4WD rigs (ATVs had not yet been misbegotten) in there with only minor mechanical damage.

But most of us had to know from the sworn testimony of a trusted someone who had hiked in, exactly where it was that you parked your rig to get started on the maze of intersecting cut lines and trails.

I hiked twice into Fall Creek. On the two trips I averaged three hours each way, but that was because of the number of wrong turns and supposed “shortcuts” on the first trip. On the second trip in, I had spare time to catch dozens of juvenile bull trout, but no big spawners yet, in a gorgeous little bull trout stream that reminded me of Elk Creek (tributary to the Clearwater River) before they turned in the cattle and planted brown trout.

Now, aided and abetted by a Sunpine Forest Products logging road, the hopeless ATV addicts are easily, literally, and illegally getting into Fall Creek, disturbing and silting its spawning gravels, slowly, relentlessly and inevitably destroying an important bull trout spawning and rearing stream for the lower Ram River (below the falls) and the connected North Saskatchewan and Clearwater Rivers.

Alberta’s fish emblem, the bull trout, may be a big, tough, rough critter, but its fatal flaw is that, to survive as a species, it needs cold, clear water and silt-free gravels in which to spawn, and until we identify and protect the critical spawning streams, the ultimate extinction of the bull trout in Alberta is inevitable.

The bull trout has one other fatal flaw: appetite; he, or she’d swallow herself tail-first, but I’m aware of only one Alberta bull trout spawning and rearing stream where that became a problem. Back in the early ’50s too many people were taking 20 per day possession limits of 10-to-14 inch bull trout from the North Fork of the Belly River until few were left.

Eventually it was discovered that the North Fork was the key spawning and rearing stream for bull trout in the entire Belly River system, and several jurisdictions, Alberta, Parks Canada, Glacier Park, the state of Montana and the Blood Nation combined to close it to angling.

Recently Hidden Creek has been much in the news, the key bull trout spawning-rearing stream for the Oldman River watershed having been seriously damaged for those purpose by rapacious clearcut logging practices. Expect the ATV mud-bogging boneheads to move in and finish the job.

The Muskeg River, arguably Alberta’s finest bull trout river, has been destroyed, first by a government too gutless to stop native poaching, and now mindless energy and forestry is destroying the river, again to be followed by the ATV army.

Surely, if we know the relatively few small headwaters streams where our threatened and endangered provincial fish is spawned and reared, it is long past time that we totally closed them and their general areas to what is destroying them: rapacious energy and forestry practices and those who enjoy, but destroy our outdoors, but only while transported and enthroned on their Kamikaze 500s.

While considering closed areas and bans, we should not forget the jet boaters who, with their nautical cocktail lounges, are churning up the spawning gravels and disturbing the peace of other users of our larger rivers, floaters, paddlers, and anglers.

I have accepted that there are cherished places I’ll never see again because I can’t walk. But I don’t even want to see — or fish — Fall Creek again in the shape it’s in: being destroyed by big-butted boneheads on noisy, smelly ATVs.

We have to get back to where there are places so precious, known bull trout spawning streams, for starters, that they are reserved for upright outdoors people who get there by the tiny environmental footprint of their own muscle power.

Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at bscam@telusplanet.net.

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