Steven Kerrick in full field dress, Truckee River headwaters.
By Steven Kerrick
For many, the backcountry calls up images of fine, uncrowded fishing in incredibly scenic places. But the term also suggests some remote, inaccessible place you have to hike multiple days or take a float plane to get to.
In fact, lots of public lands backcountry is right out our back door. One great chunk of backcountry – the Meiss Meadows roadless area -- is just a few miles from the commotion of South Lake Tahoe, California.
I recently had the opportunity to spend some time in this area, working with Trout Unlimited staff and the United States Forest Service to restore native Lahontan cutthroat trout (LCT) in the Truckee River headwaters. Just a few miles from the trailhead, the landscape consists of small alpine meadows and steep granite-laden streams. I was pleasantly surprised to see few signs of human activity.
Lahontan cutthroat trout are listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Thanks to years of restoration efforts here, the Meiss Meadows area now sports the only wild population of LCT in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
By eliminating non-native brook trout, habitat for LCT continues to expand downstream. This work is slow and difficult (my back can attest to that) but the crew I joined didn't seem to notice. Many of them have been on this project for multiple seasons and it was inspiring to see the personal investment they have in its success.
You would think that after spending eight days in the woods, standing in streams catching, measuring, and releasing fish, the last thing one would want to do at the end of the day was talk about fish. But everyone was excited when a particular section was reported free of brook trout or good numbers of LCT were found in a particular reach. We talked stream habitat, restoration tactics, generally mused on species recovery, and wondered whether we could get funding for a helicopter to set up a more glamorous base camp. That might remain a dream, but LCT recovery in the upper Truckee River is very real.
I highly recommend volunteering on this or similar projects. It’s a wonderful opportunity to contribute to native trout restoration, gain experience in the field, network in the community, and see some truly remarkable landscapes and wild fish.
Climbing up, down and through the upper Truckee watershed over four days, I was encouraged to see the results of years of hard work by TU and our agency partners to enhance this fishery. Standing at the edge of shaded pools, watching groups of small LCT dart around, I couldn’t help but wonder how big and prosperous this population could become.
And thinking I should bring my rod next time. Yes, definitely remember to bring a rod.
Steven Kerrick, an employee with Patagonia, Inc., is presently interning with TU in our office in Truckee, California, courtesy of Patagonia's remarkable program to support important conservation work by paying for its employees to intern with local conservation groups and campaigns.