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The Threat to Survival of Steelhead Trout in Mission Creek.

May 1, 2019

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My friend and one-time colleague at the California Coastal Commission, Pete Zander, is a man of many talents with a lifelong interest in species preservation. Periodically, he would bless social media with tales of his adventures. Below is a post he wrote some time ago about fishing for steelhead trout in southern California. What is especially interesting is his discussion about the history of the species and analysis of the ravages that humans have inflicted on its survival. I hope someone who may read this will be inspired to share his passion for their preservation.

 

Hook, Line, and Sinker– Part i.

There are unlimited numbers of “facts” out there that all of us could or even should know. Now, most of what I’m going to relate here is not exactly earth-shaking, but it is fascinating, and that, plus with these habitats acting as our canary in a coal mine vis-a-vis the health of our corner of the world (and how can a sphere have “four corners???” I never have figured out that little bit of idiocy), their protection ought to be of concern, even if you don’t have primitive hunter skills and live off the land. So, ready? Let’s rock.

OH — speaking of rock, let’s go first to the 50th state, Hawai’i. Even if you’ve never been — Ian and Kristen have, but I haven’t — there are things that just jump out at you. Did you know there is trout fishing in Hawai’i? Trust me – they aren’t the spawn of wayward steelhead that thought they were going to Malibu Creek and ended up on Waikiki. They’re stocked, but still, the thought of trout fishing in Hawai’i is a trip. The state record, a hefty 5 lbs., 10oz., was caught in the Kawaikoi Stream. Crazy, I know.

Hawai’i consists of reddish to black volcanic rock, verdad? How is it possible that beautiful Waikiki Beach, with famed Diamond Head in the distance, has such a beautiful light sandy beach, looking all the world like an L. A. area beach? Because that is EXACTLY where the sand comes from. Yes — the sand on Waikiki is sand sucked up by dredges offshore from the wide and deep sandy beach of Dockweiler State Beach, under the hundreds of airline flights departing from LAX every day. That barged sand is then taken to Hawai’i to replenish the sand supply of Waikiki. So, THAT’S how.

I almost got away with that mention of steelhead in Malibu Creek, which is the real reason for this post. Steelhead in Malibu Creek? That’s right. And you thought the only steelhead in Malibu was Nick Nolte after one of his infamous drunken incidents (my mom and I saw him in the supermarket at Pt. Dume one 4th of July, squeezing cantaloupes, and I asked my mom who she thought he was. “Some hung-over beach bum,” she said, all too accurately. And yes, I was working on the 4th of July and had a stack of about two dozen files of permit applications. A local architect, Richard Sol, saw me, working on the 4th and dragging my mom around with me. He was genuinely touched and wrote an embarrassingly wonderful letter about what a living saint I was. If you see this, Richard, many thanks again).

Sorry — Malibu DOES that to you . . . spins you off on a zillion tangents.

SO, steelhead spawning in Malibu Creek. Absolutely there are. Hell, they used to spawn in rivers in San Diego County, and the rainbow trout that now occur in Pauma Creek on the southwestern shoulder of Palomar Mountain are the last of the original populations, the fires in 2003 having literally boiled away the water in the upper Sweetwater River west of the Laguna Mountains, killing the remaining native trout. The very last one died in a fish tank poorly managed by DFG personnel. HINT TO DFG “BIOLOGISTS”: Why did that last poor surviving trout die? Was it swimming around frantically before it died an operatic death? That’s because you put it into a fresh tank, with fresh water . . . and no bacteria in an undergravel filter to break down ammonia and nitrites into safe nitrates. You suffocated a trout to death when a test kit to ID water chemistry would’ve prevented that. As would, you know, actually KNOWING something about fish.

Fires in the Pauma Creek watershed several years ago has nearly extirpated them, the last remaining population of the original native rainbow trout, with ash and soil washing into and choking the stream to virtually a trickle. All rainbow trout in existence today — even those on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia and in northern Japan — are descended from the original rainbow trout from San Diego County, this fact thanks to the advanced genetic identification of genes found within the species, with one marker found in San Diego trout only.

When a geography professor, from whom I took a course on man and the environment, became a friend, he took me aside one day and told me, “At most, I might tell one student a year about this place, but I think you’re the perfect person to enjoy it and keep it a secret.” What Gene Coleman told me was about the native trout population of the aforementioned Pauma Creek, a small stream that begins at over 6,000 feet in elevation in the meadows of Palomar Mountain State Park and tumbles down to the southwest, where in wet years it flows to the San Luis Rey River. The rainbow trout there aren’t the typical rainbows you may be used to — these have white-tipped ventral and dorsal fins, an occasional light yellow flash of color along its sides, and bright pink rainbows along their sides. In addition to those natives, Pauma Creek also has some brown trout, definitely not native but stocked many decades ago. When I reeled in an 8” brown for the first time, I thought it was a bullhead catfish, since some have yellowish bellies. But as soon as I took it out of the water, I knew it was a brown trout. “No way,” my brother said. “It isn’t a brown trout.”

“The HELL it isn’t,” I barked. “Look at it!” All he could say was “I’ll be damned.”

The few other brown trout we’ve seen — but not caught and landed — were big beasts for that small creek, holed up in larger pools down the gorge or in protected pockets of water behind interlocking boulders, where a perfect side-armed cast could bounce the lure off two large rocks and drop back deep behind where a direct cast couldn’t reach (yeah — try doing that fly fishing, Beckie!). One such cast I made brought out an 18” to 20” brownie that charged out like a freight train through a tunnel, whereupon I named that lower pool ”Freight Train Pool.”

Another name I bestowed was for a deep pool below a 15’ high waterfall. Aching from all of the rock hopping and general pounding my lousy knees took, I would sit on a split rock boulder above the pool, where I could watch my brother fish that pool where surely a monster trout lived. That split rock, which felt so good despite being granite, prompted me to name the pool “‘Orthopedic Rock’ pool.” When a friend from Wisconsin came out for the summer in 1974, she stripped down to her bra and panties (which, at that point, soaking wet, were irrelevant anyway) and volunteered to gauge its depth. Her hand, held above her head, receded into the depths, and she never hit the bottom.

Years later, my brother DID get a rise out of an enormous trout, probably a 22”-24” brown, from that pool. His shocked expression at seeing the beast told me all I needed to know, but we never caught it. Then again, we never used bait, just ultralight spoons.

Regarding Malibu Creek, in the early ‘80s, a biologist with the Department of Fish and Game (now known as the Department of Fish and Wildlife), Dave Drake, took me all throughout the Malibu shoreline, from Topanga Creek (where steelhead still spawn in years of average rainfall) to the Ventura County line, giving me a one-day crash course on the biota of Malibu. Even today there’s a creek I can take you to, where the stream goes under the road and a large pool is formed just before it, where there will be a decent sized steelhead, facing upstream and waiting for food to drift down. The quickest way to ID a steelhead from a rainbow trout is that steelhead have very few spots below the lateral line, while rainbows have spots all over.

So during the crazy El Nino storm season of early 1983, there was a break of several days around the second weekend of February, with a Santa Ana pushing the temperatures into the low 80s. I called my brother down in San Diego and had him come up to fish for the steelhead. The mouth of Malibu Creek was open to the sea, and so I knew steelhead would be in there, on their first spawning run opportunity in three years. But just a little over a mile from the ocean, a dam built in the 1940s — which silted up almost immediately — blocks their access to miles and miles of suitable spawning habitat of the upper Malibu Creek watershed and its major tributaries, Cold Creek and Las Virgenes Creek. The damn dam is scheduled to be taken down but that still has not started yet. The creek was full of first-year fish, bright as a newly minted dime and flashing a pale rose/lavender color and still with a few sea lice attached to their fins. They were far too young to spawn, but they wanted to check things out, a phenomenon previously thought to occur only on the Eel, Klamath, and a couple of other river systems in northern California and southern Oregon, where those yearling steelhead are known as “half-pounders.”

My brother and I caught and released over three dozen steelhead smolts apiece, each of them fat, healthy, and around 9” to 12” each that gorgeous Saturday afternoon, and personnel from DFG were there with avid L.A.area fly fishermen, there to assist DFG in sampling the steelhead population and bolstering the case to protect these critically endangered fish. We used ultralight gear with 2# test line, and Dardevle “Skeeter” spoons, weighing only 1/32 of an ounce, less than an inch long, and with barbs on the hooks crushed flat with needle-nosed pliers, to make it easier to release and less injurious to the fish (which is how I always fish).

After spending the night at my apartment in Long Beach, my brother went back up to Malibu Creek on Sunday. I had staff reports to write and couldn’t go back for another fun day of fishing. When he got back early that evening, I asked how he’d done, and his face grew pale. He had hooked and lost an enormous fish — nearly a yard long and weighing at least 15 pounds. There was no way he should have been able to fight such a large powerful fish with his tiny rod and light line. It has probably just spawned and was exhausted from the effort.

The pool was a long and deep one, with the water up against a steep rock wall on the west side and willows choking the east side. Had the fish gone upstream or downstream, it would’ve popped the line. As it was, my brother had it on for maybe ten minutes, thrashing up and down in that same pool. Exhausted, the fish surfaced and rolled on its side. When my brother reached down to grab the fish by its gill cover, it twisted away from him, and the line popped. He would’ve released it, of course, but it was every bit as large as the fish Dave Drake titillated me with during his telling stories of the fish he’d personally caught (a cleaned one was over 12 pounds).

These steelhead, officially referred to as the southern population or southern race of steelhead, are protected by the Endangered Species Act, and fishing for them is not allowed. The Santa Clara River in Ventura County and Sespe Creek, a major tributary, have good populations of steelhead (though only a small fraction of the historic levels), and the San Luis Rey River in northern San Diego County, with its tributary stream, the aforementioned Pauma Creek, can have a good population . . . IF alterations to the stream course and water withdrawals for agriculture don’t fill it in and desiccate it beyond sustainability.

The Santa Margarita River, which flows from Temecula and through Fallbrook into the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps Base, is the only stream in southern California without a dam anywhere along its course, and the base has long been well known and highly awarded for its enlightened environmental policies.

Will I ever live to see a catch-and-release sport fishery for steelhead in southern California? I sure hope so. From just one action on my part in the early ‘80s, when I was on the staff of the Coastal Commission, I was able to keep the southern steelhead from extinction. It was for the expansion of the Tapia Water Treatment Plant in upper Malibu Creek. Although the service area is all outside the Coastal Zone, the plant itself is inside and subject to our jurisdiction, and so they needed our approval to expand to 8 million gallons of treated effluent to be discharged into the creek. I placed conditions of approval on it, requiring they upgrade to tertiary treatment and to discharge all of the treated water into

Malibu Creek. “Well . . . that’s what we want to do,” said one slightly perplexed engineer. I explained that I didn’t want it sold off to water the landscaping on Hwy. 101 — I wanted it all discharged into Malibu Creek. The upgrade to tertiary is what they as professionals wanted, but they knew their board of directors would never approve of it. But jeez — with that mean guy at the Coastal Commission FORCING them to upgrade, well, they had no choice. And with a wink and a nod, our meeting finished to the satisfaction of all of us.

Turns out that throughout much of the 1990s and 2000s, extended droughts dried up all of the streams in southern California, except for Malibu Creek, with its augmented flow keeping the stream and its inhabitants alive. Malibu Creek was the only supply of water for spawning, and while its spawning habitat is extremely limited, it kept the fish from becoming extinct. If I never did anything else noteworthy in my life, I’ll always be proud of keeping a magnificent species of sport fish alive through my actions. I was the right person, at the right place and at the right time to affect positive change, and I’ll wear that as an honor badge, and with pride, for as long as I live.

 

Hook, Line, and Sinker — Part 2.

As I composed this, it was a little after 8:00 p.m. last night on what was a fun but demanding day: Alex, my older grandson, turned three today. No noisy party, no big deal, although his real birthday present comes in two weeks when the family is going to Walt Disney World and the Bahamas. Things have changed a LOT from the days when I was a kid!

Back then, in the Dark Ages, birthday presents were normally badly needed new clothes, underwear, or shoes. When I was about to turn 7, however, I made it abundantly clear that I was hoping to get a butterfly net for my birthday. It was expensive, too — $7.00. In 1961 dollars, that was equivalent to maybe $40 or $50 today; I haven’t priced butterfly nets recently — I just try to avoid men in all-white clothing chasing me with big ones. Yes, I suppose I was getting a head start on the collecting binge that 4th graders go through — collecting coins, stamps, rocks, butterflies and moths, dolls, toy soldiers — you name it. And just last Wednesday, as I was leaving after my doctor’s visit, sure enough, a boy about 9 or 10 ran up to me to show me the beautiful butterfly he’d just caught . . . and it was huge.

Nerd that I am, I pointed out that actually, it was a moth. “That’s not a moth,” he said, but Pete, the nerd naturalist, used the occasion to instruct the kid, pointing out that butterflies have simple thin antennae; this bad boy bug had antennae that looked like enormous feathers. Like the big fat sphinx moths, looking more like a small bird you see at twilight in a lighted stadium [http://www.pbase.com/rcm1840/image/135226348] or gas station . . . or if you had a honeysuckle vine in early summer, like I did as a kid, you’ll remember their fat bodies, the red and white horizontal stripes on those tasty juicy fat bodies (well, to a bird, but these are what tomato hornworms turn into), and from somewhere deep in that scary dungeon that is my brain, I said without even thinking, “That’s called a Cecropia moth.” How the hell I remembered that obscure factoid from over half a century ago is just something I do, and it’s scary. But here’s a link so you can maybe see why I would’ve never forgotten its name, so you can see just how cool that moth is: http://photobucket.com/images/Cecropia+Moth#!

So what does all that have to do with steelhead, the subject several days ago? A steelhead is a rainbow trout, right? It’s a trout that travels down creeks and rivers to the ocean, there to fatten up for a few years, to come back up their natal creeks and rivers to spawn. Unlike our five species of Pacific salmon, however, steelhead don’t necessarily die after spawning; in fact, some even spawn three or four times in their lifetimes (sounds about like me . . . .). But so what?

Well, it’s a pretty BIG “so what.” It isn’t just that they’re anadromous; it isn’t just that they don’t die after spawning. In fact, even among steelhead, there are amazing adaptations that individual populations have. They’re not just one kind of fish; BUT fisheries biologists in the late 1800s up until even today, unfortunately, certainly thought so. Back then, a rainbow was a rainbow, and the distinction between stay-at-home rainbows and anadromous ones was ignored or not known. They were all gathered up. The biologists stripped them of their eggs and sperm, mixed it all up, stream-resident rainbows and migratory steelhead rainbows, redband trout of different races, and produced “rainbow trout” to stock in every little creek, pond, or lake that would support trout, whether it already had some or not, since “these trout were produced by science!” Tens of thousands of years of survival in harsh, almost unbelievable conditions, led to important adaptations, but the biologists didn’t know that or care to know, for that matter. They shipped those fertilized eggs, or baby trout, or fingerling trout, or “catchable” five-per-pound rainbows all around the world. Hatchery trout are designed to produce hatchery fish, eating food pellets. It’s illegal to “chum” in most areas of California, but I wonder what would happen if you went to a lake recently stocked with hatchery rainbows, and scattered handfuls of gravel, like a hatchery worker ringing the dinner ball. Think you could catch your limit then, with the lake’s entire shipment of factory fish swarming near you, eagerly looking for the “food?”

“SO?” I hear you say. Well, for one thing, rainbow trout are aggressive fish, and hatchery rainbow trout are aggressive . . . and stupid. They are produced because hatchery life created the soulless creatures to provide meat, and for no other reason. Well, ask any fly fisherman (male or female) who’s been skunked, and he’ll say that he matched the hatch with a Size 20 Chironomid pupa pattern and a 6X tippet, to this one trout, and it refused to take despite fifteen perfect casts, and it was the smartest goddamned fish he’d ever seen. [Note to all women who have been made trout fishing widows by their husbands: Fish are actually pretty stupid and have tiny little brains. So tease your hubbys, but don’t push it too far!]. Right. Put a worm on a hook, and that trout’s ass is yours.

These dumbed-down hatchery fish — beautifully nicknamed “rubber trout” or “factory trout” by the late Robert H. Smith, author of Native Trout of North America, in which he detailed his lifelong task of catching and photographing every species and subspecies of salmonid in North America (even in high-elevation streams below the Tropic of Cancer in the Sierra Madre Occidental on mainland Mexico, where as many as possibly six or more undescribed new species live), the hatchery trout have had the very precise body language of the species bred out of them. They don’t understand the posturing of native fish, instead, disrupting the orderly and understood body language of wild native fish and just blundering their way through, shooting their wad while native pairs of trout are spawning, weakening the gene pool, displacing the wild native fish, and eventually replacing the natives . . . kind of like what white Europeans did to the world.

Rainbows, being the most recently evolved, also have dominant genes. When a “factory trout” spawns with a cutthroat trout or a golden trout, the offspring is neither cutthroat, golden nor rainbow. If there are enough hatchery fish introduced, they create a “hybrid swarm” that eventually eliminates the native trout and their specific adaptations. The Eagle Lake rainbow trout in extreme northeastern California adapted to the strongly alkaline water of that lake where no other trout can live. Same with the Lahontan cutthroat trout in Pyramid Lake in Nevada, which grew to a size of 40 lbs to maybe 60 lbs. They were so delicious that the fish were harvested and were considered the most delicious fish, even more so than salmon, creating a large and lucrative industry in shipping these delicious huge trout.

But when Teddy Roosevelt’s Bureau of Reclamation dammed up their only spawning stream, the Truckee River, which flows from Lake Tahoe to the lakes in Nevada — in fact THE very first Bureau of “Wreck the Nation” project ever — the species died out. The irony that America’s first great conservationist President, in attempting to water the American desert southwest and increase productivity, signed the death certificate of one of the most amazing species.

The late great fisheries biologist, Dr. Robert Behnke of Colorado State University, wrote in his book Trout and Salmon of North America: “As more and more water was diverted from the Truckee River, successful spawning of Pyramid Lake cutthroat trout became more infrequent. The last spawning run occurred in 1938 and consisted of large trout seven to ten years of age and older. Federal fish biologists were on hand to document the demise of the Pyramid Lake population as the flow in the Truckee River was shut off, stranding the fish attempting to spawn. Observers measured 195 of the dying trout, which averaged about 36 inches (91 cm) long and 20 pounds (9 kg).”

The possibility that some of those fish — with the same genetic propensity for growing to a great size — might have been stocked in a barren stream on Pilot Peak near the Nevada-Utah state line, has conservationists hopeful for the first time since the 1930s that the genetic programming of those massive Pyramid Lake fish might still exist. Hatcheries, which were the downfall of untold species and populations of trout, is now being used to help that incredible fish, and 20 lb+ fish are already being caught. In 5 or 6 more years, we ought to start seeing some 35-40 lbers

Many subspecies of cutthroat trout have adapted to tiny streams in desert areas throughout the Great Basin Desert, with extreme fluctuations in water amounts, high temperatures that would kill other trout, and other very specific adaptations . . . adaptations that were being lost forever — as were several species and subspecies of trout. These fish all resided in the massive post-glacial lakes covering much of eastern California, Nevada, Utah, eastern Oregon, and even parts of Idaho and Wyoming 11,000 years ago — Lake Bonneville (20,000 square miles, the size of Lake Michigan) and Lake Lahontan (8,865 square miles, roughly the size of Lake Erie). When the lakes began receding and desiccating with the change in world climate, the ancestor of our cutthroat trout species were left stranded high . . . but not dry. In these high-elevation headwater streams and rivers, the ancestors of the Cutts of today were cut off from exchanging genetic material from other populations and developed into new subspecies.

Lake Bonneville is now the site of the Bonneville Salt Flats, where high-tech race cars — and even people in their own ordinary vehicles — can drive on the smooth surface of what 10,000 years ago would have had water up to 1,200 feet deep. Only the incredibly salty Great Salt Lake remains from that massive lake.

Even we in California have our share of dry lakes, remnants of post-glacial lakes that covered much of eastern California. Searles Dry Lake, near the Inyo County line in extreme northeastern San Bernardino County, has a massive processing industry, mining the various salts and minerals concentrated. Once a year, on the second weekend in October, the operators open the area up for mineral collectors to obtain beautiful pink cubes and “hopper crystal” masses of salt, colored pink to a deep cranberry red from salt-loving species of bacteria in the evaporation ponds. They also allow people to collect rare salt and borate minerals from a “blowhole,” which you can watch from a safe but still really close distance, and get incredibly muddy and filthy, looking for the rare mineral hanksite crystals in mud that is dumped for eager collectors to grope in. From there, you can look to the west, at the Argus Range, and see a thin, straight line hundreds of feet above the dry desert floor — the high water mark of the ancient lake 11,000 years ago.

So, if you google the web page for the “Gem-O-Rama” weekend, it has, since 2004, featured photos of Kristen and me — me, who weighed about, oh, 25 or 30 pounds more back then, and a scrawny but still cute and identifiable Kristen, futile in her attempt to pick at some mud, only succeeding in smearing it more. My bent arthritic fingers are easily ID’ed as the person holding examples of the hanksite crystals, and I guess they really liked the father-daughter thing at the outing. Here’s the link: http://www1.iwvisp.com/tronagemclub/GEM-O-RAMA.htm (Click on The Mud Minerals Field Trip, then click on The Mud Crystals. Scroll down to the second set of photos, and there we are, in all our muddy glory. Check out the halite crystals too!).

Even the gorgeous golden trout, California’s state freshwater fish, is now threatened. Seems that when Department of Fish and Game personnel stocked golden trout from their hatchery operations, some rainbow trout got into the golden trout tanks, and now, rainbow trout genetic contamination has occurred in the chain of high-elevation lakes and streams, the Cottonwood Lakes and Cottonwood Creeks, where only golden trout were thought to exist. Not no mo’.

All of that lengthy (sorry . . . sorry!) background is a fairly condensed synopsis of why saving the southern race of steelhead was so critically important. With the diversity of thousands of years of adaptations to different environments and conditions, on any given month of the year, some population of steelhead is spawning somewhere along the West Coast. While these are grouped very roughly into “summer-run” and “winter-run” steelhead, the summer runs occur between May through October, and the winter runs occur from November through April. On top of that, the various spawning groups of steelhead may spend their first two years in fresh water in larger rivers and streams, while spawning occurring in the intermittent stream flows in dry southern and central California may have to make do in brackish lagoon water.

Take ALL of that, picture it in your mind, then go (in your mind) to Malibu Creek with me. Property owners in the gated Malibu Colony residential area and in homes near Malibu Creek complain about the stagnant water and high coliform counts in Malibu Lagoon, continually griping to the County (and since the early 1990s, the City of Malibu) to make an ocean cut in the sand bar enclosing the lagoon so that tidal action would flush it out. Well, coliform counts are high there because virtually everybody in Malibu — yes, rich, famous, star-studded Malibu — is on septic systems. Yes, the high coliform counts arise from your own shit, movie stars!

And, true — when you have ponded water like that, it attracts wildlife like ducks, who excrete whenever and wherever they choose. But in that lagoon are the few hundred to maybe a few thousand newly hatched steelhead. If the sand bar enclosing the lagoon is breached artificially, the fingerling steelhead smolts are flushed out — sorry — with the excrement of the rich and famous out of the lagoon and into the surf, where they are subject to being fed on by surf perch and other voracious near-shore saltwater fish species, as if Wolfgang Puck rang the dinner bell just for them.

As I mentioned in my first post on this subject, in very wet years, steelhead opportunistically take advantage of spawning habitat in the many creeks and streams flowing into the Pacific. In years of reduced or little rainfall, depending on timing and luck, maybe steelhead can spawn in Malibu Creek, Topanga Creek, and one or two others; in dry years, which seem to be occurring much of the time now, only Malibu Creek, with its gift of life obtained through a permit condition ensuring a greater freshwater flow into the creek, can support a steelhead spawning run. In many rivers of California and the West Coast, steelhead will spawn only in their home stream or possibly a stream or river close by, which is predicated on “normal” precipitation and water levels. The southern race of steelhead lives in the most difficult area for steelhead spawning, with the high degree of urbanization of surrounding lands and channelization of the streams into concrete-lined flood control channels, which, of course, completely eliminate any possibility of spawning habitat.

The special adaptation of the southern race is one of — to put it into modern dating lingo — one of “Mr. Right Now” instead of “Mr. Right.” In other words, they spawn where they can, when they can, so long as the breeding adults are sexually mature and are in breeding condition. If the rains come late, say, in April when the steelhead are conditioned to spawn in late November to February, they will not be able to spawn successfully. Or if the rains come very early when the fish are not in spawning condition, the majority of that age class and that stream’s fish will also not have a very successful spawning year, if they have one at all. Nature gives no guarantees.

Question: Do existing laws, like the Endangered Species Act (ESA), afford any statutory protection for these fish? The answer is yes. The ESA not only protects recognized species and subspecies, it also protects various populations, recognizing that not every animal can be made to have its life history designed for the convenience of mankind. While the wildly inconsistent spawning of steelhead might be frustrating to regulators, it is a bit of a safety net for a species like steelhead and these population groups to be able to spawn somewhere in the state, in some rivers and streams. But the more we develop and screw up the habitat for species like the southern race of steelhead, we are forcing them, as it were, to play a game of spawning Russian Roulette, only, in the case of steelhead, there are five bullets and one empty chamber, instead of one bullet and 5 empty chambers. The game is increasingly stacked against the survival of this fascinating, compelling, and beautiful species, a fish that has withstood vast destruction of its habitat, a deplorable lack of concern by state and federal regulators whose jobs are supposed to be to protect such species, instead of finding ways and reasons not to.

But every once in a great while, a species will catch a lucky break — a person who actually knows their life history is amazed that they have persisted this long, and who actually cares about whether they survive or don’t. To me, the southern race of steelhead has a far more compelling right to exist than do the millions of people in southern California, who dump their used motor oil into culverts draining into the sea, who develop every parcel of land they can in order to turn a quick buck, who bitch about “government waste,” then wonder why he can’t seem to catch fish like he used to as a kid. And of course, the government is to blame.

Who is responsible for the threat to the existence of all of these majestic species, ones that have overcome staggering odds just to be alive today in the few numbers they are? It’s easy. The guilty parties can be seen every morning . . . in your bathroom mirror when you brush your teeth or shave to get ready for work. If you’re not part of the solution, the now trite slogan says, you’re part of the problem. You can turn on the faucet and get fresh water for your needs; steelhead can’t. But they can’t tell you that or tell the governmental agencies with the power to save them or allow them to die off, like so many species have in the past 125 years. When I was in the right place and at the right time to give the southern race of steelhead a fighting chance over 30 years ago, I hoped that the one little victory I achieved for their continued existence might be multiplied many times over. It hasn’t been, unfortunately. But maybe you will be that next person they’ll need, or maybe you know someone who knows someone who could. One person CAN save the world or at least a worthy part of it, but you actually have to DO something. Now you know, so go out and DO it.

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