The War on Lake Trout
Lake trout, native to the Great Lakes and the boreal lakes of Canada and Alaska, were first “discovered” in Yellowstone Lake in 1994. Their appearance was likely the result of introduction from nearby Lewis or Shoshone lakes, where the fish were intentionally stocked more than 100 years ago.
It is tantalizing—but doubtful—that “management” of any kind can remove Lake Trout. These lakes and Lake Yellowstone are virtually connected by a web of streams, ponds and wetlands. Waterfowl, eagles and animals such as moose, wolves and coyotes can easily transport lake trout eggs in their feathers and fur. There is no way to stop this or prevent reintroductions.
As in most cases, there is more to this story.
The agencies don’t mention that they brought Lake Trout to Yellowstone nor that CWD was born in a Colorado experimental station at Fort Collins. They don’t admit that the Yellowstone bison herd is, as a result of their ‘hands-off’ management policies, now the national reservoir of brucellosis nor that the wolves they proudly take credit for reintroducing were originally wiped out by the same agencies in a national eradication effort that is continued to this day by the federal government’s “Wildlife Services” and many state and federal agencies.
In the early 1980s the feds built Choke Canyon Reservoir near Corpus Christi, Texas. Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) operated it.
The bass fishery was so incredible that Choke Canyon became the US hotspot for bass fishing. The thing is all new lakes abound with productive fisheries because of newly flooded land that kicks off aquatic food chain successions. But they all eventually reach an equilibrium.
Heading towards that equilibrium, TPWD found a scapegoated alligator gar that, according to the agency, were “eating all the trophy bass.” TPWD brought in commercial fishermen and caught 400,000 pounds of alligator gar the first year. There is no serious evidence of the meat being commercially used.
The largest alligator gar measured nearly 10 feet and weighed 450 pounds. Then, agency personnel started aging them (via otoliths) and found that even a medium-sized alligator gar was 60-plus years old. The really big ones were well over 100 years old. And TPWD realized, too late, that these giants were living on invasive European and Asian carp, which are now a problem in the lake.
One thousand years from now, the planet’s wildlife will consist of animals that found a way to adapt to human impact. If a species can find a niche and thrive in a world of dwindling intact ecosystems, why attack it? Biodiversity is essential: The alternative is rangeland desertification and forest decline.
Meanwhile, the current list of agency “wars” on successful species is long: elk, aoudad, pigs, horses, burros, wild cattle in Texas, mountain goats in Yellowstone-Teton, predators everywhere, and of course, Lake Trout. And then there are weeds and plants being battled with an ever-growing arsenal of poisons.
How many of these efforts have succeeded, and what was the cost in money and collateral damage? As history has proven time and time again, managers attempting to control Lake Trout might create unintended consequences which may be worse than what they are addressing. Of course, they could take another approach, and allow a new balance to emerge in Lake Yellowstone.
The management efforts addressed above were no doubt undertaken with good intentions, but to paraphrase British historian Edward Gibbon, the history of wildlife “management’” is indeed largely the register of the misfortunes of wildlife and habitats arising from foolish attacks on nature. “Managers” have caused far greater irreversible impacts on wildlife than the public which is usually blamed.