Conservation: Parks' Fly Shop Conservation Efforts, Yellowstone Fisheries Conservation

This page includes two sections. At the top we present brief introductions to various local conservation groups we support. Towards the bottom we discuss threats to Yellowstone fisheries and fishing.

Conservation Efforts and Groups We Support

Bear Creek Council

Bear Creek Council is a local, grassroots organization dedicated to protecting the environmental health of the Gardiner area. Among the issues Bear Creek Council has worked on are monitoring the closure of the TVX mine at the headwaters of Bear Creek, thereby reducing the potential for damaging cyanide and arsenic releases into Bear Creek and the Yellowstone River.

Currently Bear Creek is working on a campaign to reduce Gardiner's energy use by promoting renewable energy, educating local residents on how to cut their electricity usage, and providing recycling facilities. Eventually we hope to make Gardiner completely reliant on Green Energy. The first step was the facilitation of a grant to install a bank of solar electric collectors on the school, a system designed to be scaled up in the future.

Bear Creek has also fought proposals to clear cut large swaths of the the Gallatin National Forest and worked with the Bison Field Campaign to create a commonsense approach to managing bison that leave Yellowstone during the winter months, rather than simply rounding them up for slaughter out of a misguided belief that they pose a threat to local ranchers. We are also working hard to eliminate bear-human conflicts through our "Bear Aware Gardiner" campaign, which is focused on educating locals on how to make their trash unavailable to bears.

Richard Parks has served a past president of both Bear Creek Council and the Northern Plains Resource Council, the umbrella group with which Bear Creek is affiliated.

Yellowstone Country Guardians

Guide Mike Leach runs Yellowstone Country Guardians (YCG), which through grassroots education and outreach programs strives to inspire the communities surrounding Yellowstone National Park to nurture the wild spirit of the Yellowstone Ecosystem. By helping local youth learn about and better understand the threats and concerns that their home (Yellowstone Country) faces today, YCG strives to provide an inclusive platform for those typically not involved with environmental, conservation and wilderness efforts. Because YCG believes that a healthy Yellowstone Ecosystem is interdependent with healthy Yellowstone communities on a human level, they work to help develop a deeper sense of place and commitment to the region's future.

Recognizing that no one is in better position to enjoy and protect the Yellowstone Ecosystem than the youth of this region, YCG has placed a special emphasis on developing programs that foster their growth as the future leaders in conservation.

Two of YCG's core programs are their Yellowstone Leadership Challenge and their River Guardian Fly Fishing School. The Yellowstone Leadership Challenge brings students from across the region together for a three day fall program with subsequent follow-up and service work that challenges participants and helps to uncover their potential to become leaders in their communities and ambassadors to the region. To read inspiring testimony and view photos from YCG's 2010 Yellowstone Leadership Challenge, visit their Field Journal Blog.

The River Guardian Fly Fishing School is a week-long, in-depth program designed for high school aged teenagers with the mission of fostering a deep understanding and burning passion for the rivers coursing throughout Yellowstone Country. As with all YCG program this also includes service work that teaches students about giving back to their watershed while making a positive impact on the fishery. Parks' Fly Shop is a sponsor of this program, with our staff volunteering guide days and fly tying tutorials. View photos of this program and read moving student testimony here.

Yellowstone Association

From their website:

The nonprofit Yellowstone Association educates Yellowstone National Park visitors by offering trip planners, books, videos, and guided classes through Yellowstone Park by our field institute. The Yellowstone Association is located in Yellowstone National Park and promotes preservation of Yellowstone National Park through its educational Park Store bookstores, publication of books, and funding provided to Yellowstone through membership and sales of educational materials to park visitors. Since 1933, the Yellowstone Association has been the National Park Service's official partner in education in Yellowstone National Park.

Richard Parks has run introductory and intermediate fly fishing classes on behalf of the Institute. We strongly suggest you check out their course offerings if you will be in the area for an extended stay.

National Groups

Parks' Fly Shop and/or its employees and affiliates are also members of Trout Unlimited, FFF, and other national and international organizations.


Threats to Yellowstone Area Fisheries

Many of the following threats derive from aquatic hitch hikers, invasive species. This website has a great deal of information on how to effectively clean your fishing gear to prevent these species from coming along for a ride to uninfected waters.

Whirling Disease

Whirling disease is an ailment that affects young trout, especially rainbows and cutthroats. It is caused by a parasite originally native to Europe (like Zebra Mussels, Eurasian Milfoil, and other invasive exotics) that attacks the spines of young fish, deforming their bones and leading to a characteristic circular swimming motion. Death is usually the ultimate result. While the primary vector for transmission of this disease is stocking of infected trout, it can be transmitted by anglers who do not thoroughly clean their gear before moving from a stream where the parasite is present to one where it is not.

In the Yellowstone National Park area, WD heavily infects Yellowstone Lake and its tributaries, including the Yellowstone River above the falls. The low, warm water of the mid-2000s and the slow, silty flows of many sections of these streams are prime conditions to create intense infestations of the disease-causing parasite. The Madison River outside the Park suffered greatly during the 1990s from the disease, though it has recovered significantly. If anglers are careful to clean their gear to avoid transmitting the disease to new waters inside Yellowstone, odds are good that the Yellowstone River and the small tributaries to Yellowstone Lake will recover, as the Madison already has.

New Zealand Mud Snails

Mud snails are a small exotic species of snail that are of no nutritional value to local fish species. They are filter feeders that can breed exponentially due to their lack of predators in North America, and when unchecked they can reach sufficient densities to significantly disrupt the base of the food chain by consuming the available food that native trout stream insects such as mayflies, caddisflies, etc. depend upon, thus ultimately impacting trout populations. They are highly resistant to changing water temperatures, drying, and can survive being eaten by a trout by retracting into their indigestible shells. They are also small enough that they're almost impossible to detect visually (being smaller, in some cases, than the period at the end of this sentence). Thus it is vitally important that anglers clean and disinfect their gear thoroughly to avoid transmitting the parasite to new waters.

In the Yellowstone area, mud snails are found in the Firehole, Gibbon, and Madison Rivers and their tributaries, the Lewis River tributary Crawfish Creek, and in the Paradise Valley Spring Creeks. Be sure to clean your gear after fishing these waters, or in the case of Crawfish Creek after wading down it to reach the Lewis, using the technique described below.

Rainbow/Cutthroat Trout Interbreeding

Rainbow and cutthroat trout are closely related, closely enough that they can hybridize and produce fertile offspring. Cutthroat trout are the region's only native trout species, and both the two subspecies found in the area, the Westslope and Yellowstone subspecies, are classified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The Yellowstone cutthroat is specifically found in less than three percent of its historic range. Rainbow trout, as most readers are probably already aware, have been widely stocked and are now found around the world, though they are native only to watersheds draining to the Pacific.

While fisheries managers originally attempted to "help" nature by stocking rainbows in the Yellowstone area, biologists now recognize the importance of preserving species diversity and preventing non-native species from interfering with natives. For many years, rainbows did not expand their range much from the original locations where they were stocked, preserving cutthroat populations in close to a genetically-pure state. After several years of low water and perhaps illegal "bucket biologist" introductions, rainbows have begun expanding their range into the upper meadows of Slough Creek, the Lamar River including Soda Butte Creek, and the Yellowstone up to the base of the Lower Falls.

Because Yellowstone regulations allow up to five rainbows to be kept, Park biologists encourage anglers to keep or even simply to kill any rainbows they catch in Slough Creek above the campground, in the Lamar, and in Soda Butte Creek. I also suggest killing any caught in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, from the Lamar upstream to the Falls. Since rainbows and cutthroats hybridize to produce offspring that bear a mixture of their parents' physical traits, identification of hybrids compared to pure-strain fish is quite difficult. Under Park regulations, a cutthroat is defined as any fish with visible red, pink, orange, or yellow throat markings. If you're unsure if the fish you're holding is a cutt-bow hybrid or a rainbow, let it go. If the fish lacks throat slashes, kill it. If enough anglers can move past their usually commendable tendency towards catch and release fishing in this case, rainbows should be held in check sufficiently for cutthroat populations in the fabled waters of the Lamar drainage and Yellowstone River to remain almost pure.

Lake Trout in Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake was historically home only to cutthroat trout, and it produced them in dramatic abundance. Unfortunately, in the early 1980s a misguided or malicious angler or group of anglers illegally introduced lake trout from Lewis Lake into Yellowstone Lake. Since lake trout grow quite large, they are able to consume great numbers of both juvenile and adult cutthroats. Since the mid-90s, cutthroat populations in Yellowstone Lake have crashed, threatening fisheries in both Yellowstone Lake and the fabled upper Yellowstone River, including "Buffalo Ford" and the Thorofare. More critically, the Yellowstone Lake cutthroat, like salmon in Pacific Coast streams, forms the linchpin to the ecosystem surrounding the lake, providing food for grizzly bears, otters, osprey, gulls, pelicans, and many other species, and creating indirect effects for many others. Lake trout, since they dwell in deep water and are thus unavailable to predators (or most anglers) for most of the year do not fill this niche, placing many of the species that make Yellowstone famous besides its fish in danger.

Park regulations require anglers to kill all lake trout caught in Yellowstone Lake, with no daily or possession limits. They are most available to anglers in the West Thumb area of the lake, and to shore anglers in the two weeks after the lake opens and again from mid-September until the close of the Park season. The Park Service runs gillnets aggressively in areas with known lake trout populations, but anglers can do their part as well. New areas with heavy concentrations of lake trout are being identified every year, so check with the Park Service or with us for more specific information.

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