Protect What’s Left

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By Spencer Durrant | TMTB Managing Editor
January 9, 2018


The world is quickly running out of wild places.

I’m about to step on a soapbox, and I’ll be here for a while. If you don’t want to read about conservation and the logic behind protecting what’s left of America’s wild places, well, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

It’s a sad day, I think, when the mantle of conservation falls solely on the shoulders of folks like me. I’m not particularly influential or intelligent, and the thick Western drawl which accents my speech automatically destroys any credibility I may have built through my writing.

But if sportsmen and women across America won’t stand up for our wild places, no one will.

Check your partisan B.S. at the door; the discussion of saving our wild places is more important than loyalty to a set of ideals that changes every four years based on the whims of folks so out-of-touch with society that they think a visit to Martha’s Vineyard counts as being in the great outdoors.

I stepped on my soapbox after a disturbing report from the local Fox affiliate here in Salt Lake City detailed the plans a private group has to build an entire city of islands on top of Utah Lake.

The rest of that thread is worth reading if you’re a Utah native, but the gist of it is this: when are we ever going to learn from historical mistakes? Whenever we try to alter the environment to suit our wants, it doesn’t work out – for the environment, or us.

Utah Lake is a vitally important part of Utah’s environment. It’s a sprawling 98,000-acre puddle that isn’t much to look at these days.

Back in the day, though, it housed cutthroat trout in excess of 40 pounds. Per research compiled by Richard A. Heckman, Charles W. Thompson, and David A. White, Utah Lake’s trout were well-known to early Spanish explorers. a vital food source for the Native American tribes in what is modern-day Utah Valley, and provided valuable sustenance to early Mormon pioneers in the mid-1800s. The cutthroat grew in excess of 40 pounds, and the water was crystal-clear. One report even reads that the Provo River (Utah Lake’s largest tributary) got so full of spawning cutthroat trout in the spring that you could walk across the river on the backs of the fish.

That’s all gone now because the pioneers harvested every last pound of trout from the lake. Once the trout were gone, carp were introduced to feed the booming Asian and Hispanic populations working on the railroads in the West, and the gold mines in California (information that’s all included in the above-linked research).

I don’t blame the pioneers. They didn’t know better.

We do. And if we let stuff like this happen on our watch, then we don’t deserve the wild places we have.

If you don’t think we can make a difference, look at what we’ve accomplished within Yellowstone. The park’s native cutthroat trout still face a lot of opposition, but their future is bright. 

Gray wolves were recently removed from the endangered species list. A controversial decision, but one that shows their populations are stable enough that carefully-managed hunting will ensure the management and conservation of the species.

Here in Utah, Bonneville cutthroat were thought to be extinct until they were discovered in some tiny headwater streams in the late 70s. Now, Bonnies swim all over their native range – so much so, in fact, that the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Trout Unlimited partnered to offer a cutthroat slam program for Utah’s four native cutthroat subspecies.

We can – and do – make a difference when we put our collective effort behind improving our wilderness. Angry, inflammatory rhetoric won’t get us anywhere Calm discussion and the willingness to compromise, work with the other side, and common sense will carry us through this ordeal.

Or, we can sit around and let developers act like monkeys in a banana factory, building cities on lakes left and right.

Yeah, that last bit was inflammatory rhetoric. I’ll admit when I’m wrong, but I hope it makes a point.

Stand up for what’s left. There’s not much of it, and if you want the America tradition of hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation to continue, you can’t count on others to do the heavy lifting in your stead.

Spencer Durrant is a fly fishing writer, outdoors columnist, and novelist from Utah. He’s also the managing editor of The Modern Trout Bum. His work has appeared in Field & Stream, Hatch Magazine, Sporting Classics Daily, TROUT Magazine, and other national publications. Find him on Twitter/Instagram, @Spencer_Durrant.