Conservation Trout & Char

Gila Trout: Back from the Brink

Article by Jon Carver

In October of 2021, I unexpectedly angled a Gila trout (Oncorhynchus gilae gilae). From a population reduced to perhaps 20 total miles of stream, this native southwestern trout has been brought back from the brink of extinction through the joint efforts of New Mexico and Arizona’s Game and Fish departments. Details of the recovery effort are readily available online.

Gila Trout - Jon Carver - Tenkara Angler

The story of the Gila trout, like every story of conservation and recovery, should cause us to reflect on our role in the ecosystem. The fact is that there is no place on the planet totally free from human influence. This does not have to be a sad fact. So far, most of humanity’s relationship with the natural world has been exploitive and destructive, intentionally, or not. It is easy to despair about this and think that the best we can do for the world is to try and wall ourselves off from it and leave it alone. I think this is a mistake. Wasn’t it this very idea — that we are somehow intruders into nature — that gave us permission to disregard it?

We are an infant species that only recently learned to walk. We are just now learning to think. We have made big mistakes. We will make more. But humanity isn’t a mistake. Nature makes no mistakes. I have never seen a trout with incorrect spots. There is a long way to go. But the Gila trout is just one example of how far we’ve come in what amounts to a geological instant.

In 1950 Gila trout were all but extinct. Today, they have a future. Yesterday we were dynamiting fish out of the Colorado to fertilize potato fields. Today, our kids can teach us the basics of ecology and genetics. It is not unreasonable to think that, maybe tomorrow, they will not only know how to save a fish, but how to build a river.

Jon Carver lives in the Southwest. 

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2021-22 issue of Tenkara Angler magazine.

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