Inside Oregon’s Trout Unlimited

Steelhead Fisherman, North Umpqua
A fly fisherman cast while fishing the North Umpqua River for steelhead.

Aquatic Wildlife Fighters

written by Tricia Louvar featured photo by Ryan Brennecke

Twenty-five years ago, Tom Wolf went fishing with his grandfather, an Oregonian who logged for fifty-three years. The grandfather, a hunter and fisherman, spoke of the environmental burden of timber loss he had come to feel after all those years. “Fix that,” the grandfather said.

“The next day, at the age of 94, my grandfather, a man in reasonably good health, died. ‘Fix that’ were his last words to me. From then on, I’ve been involved in Trout Unlimited,” said Wolf, executive director of the Oregon Council of Trout Unlimited.

Trout Unlimited is a nationwide nonprofit organization that focuses on trout and salmon conservation, protection and restoration work in coldwater fisheries.

Wolf remembers past years in terms of Trout Unlimited’s work. Take 2011: He went to Salem to help pass legislation on boat inspections at the state’s borders, with the intent of prohibiting the spread of invasive species on the underbellies of boats. It also became the year of trying to ban felted-bottom boots used in fly-fishing, because while the gear allows for good stream traction the material is also porous and capable of harboring hitchhiking larvae and other species. Anglers traipsing their gear from state to state impedes the integrity of aquatic life if they bring non-native species to a new river.

Flyfishing

In fact, the New Zealand mud snail arrived in Idaho’s Snake River in the 1980s and eventually, with anglers using the same gear and going river to river throughout the West, infected many of the region’s rivers. The human factor, along with the wildlife factor of transportation, means the mud snail is an invasive and hard-to-control pest. (The mud snail sounds like something out of a sci-fi novel: the self-cloning female snail can create a colony of 40 million snails annually. This species—takers but not givers—are inedible to native fish.)

Oregon’s Trout Unlimited does other work too. It leads the effort to curb dredge mining sections of the state’s rivers. “These large trucks suck up eggs and very small young hatch; they suck up aquatic macroinvertebrates; they stir up mercury in the streams,” Wolf said. “These large pieces of equipment are dragged around the stream.” Trout Unlimited saw this happening in Southern Oregon as well as in parts of Eastern Oregon where gold had been found in the past. The method drastically disrupts the aquaculture.

The organization gives a voice to the voiceless. It works to preserve what makes Oregon, well, Oregon. Trout Unlimited continues its work with the state’s senators on the Southwestern Oregon Watershed and Salmon Protection Act before Congress to protect the Smith River from long-term nickel mining projects and new designations for the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

“Fly-fishing is Lord Byron or Walt Whitman verse for me,” said Wolf, a sixth-generation Oregonian whose family traveled the Oregon Trail from the Midwest and landed in the Willamette Valley. On behalf of Trout Unlimited, he scans for environmental threats while fly-fishing Oregon’s pristine rivers in hopes of preserving the state for future generations.

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