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September 20, 2011 7:50 am

EDITORIAL: Plight of the cutthroat

Written by Tessa Schweigert

Innovative methods applauded in fight against lake trout

Deep in the waters of Yellowstone Lake lurk thousands of trout that threaten the fragile ecosystem of America’s beloved first national park.

Non-native lake trout prey on cutthroat trout native to Yellowstone Lake, but it’s not simply a case of big fish versus little fish — much more is at stake.

A vital link in the food chain, cutthroat trout swim into the lake’s tributaries and become lunch for grizzly bears, otters, ospreys and other animals in Yellowstone. By contrast, lake trout dwell deep and don’t venture into the tributaries, causing much more harm than good in Yellowstone’s ecosystem.

The statistics are bleak.

Just consider one creek in Yellowstone. More than 18,000 cutthroats were counted during their annual spawning in Clear Creek in 1998, according to the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. A decade later, the number of cutthroats plunged to only 241.

Since the mid-1990s, the National Park Service and other agencies have intervened for the cutthroat, launching gill-netting efforts to kill more than 800,000 of the unwanted mackinaw in Yellowstone Lake.

But for years, many worried that it still wasn’t enough.

We’re glad to see the fight intensifying to save Yellowstone’s cutthroat trout, thanks to innovative action and collaborative efforts among the Park Service, biologists, conservationists and anglers alike.

We also applaud the local chapter of Trout Unlimited for its efforts in eliminating lake trout in Yellowstone Lake and raising money to help the cutthroats’ cause.

The outlook for cutthroats in Yellowstone has been grim in recent years, but the situation may improve as “Judas” fish implanted with radio transmitters lead scientists to spawning areas of the lake. With the process already under way, the hope is that future lake trout will be eliminated before they even hatch.

It’s refreshing to see that, for once, when it comes to managing a threatened species in Yellowstone, there is little controversy and stakeholders are unified in battling together toward a common goal: to save the cutthroat.

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