southern Sierra Nevada region is valued by anglers and outdoor enthusiasts
alike for its vast and rugged beauty and its stark high-elevation wilderness.
It is also home to the historical habitat for California’s state
fish, the California golden trout, a brilliant gold-and-red salmonid that
evolved from an isolated population of sea-run rainbow trout. The golden’s
origin has been traced to the high-elevation streams of the Kern River
drainage, specifically the South Fork Kern River and Golden Trout Creek.
In 1978, the 300,000-acre
Golden Trout Wilderness was created by federal law to help preserve and
protect golden trout native habitat. For good reason: Golden trout (Oncorhynchus
mykiss aquabonita) are a natural aesthetic masterpiece. Their glowing
yellow scales blend with a scorched apricot belly, and a fiery red lateral
line stretches through the charcoal-colored parr marks along their sides.
Imagine an emblazoned East Coast autumn packaged as a trout.
Sadly, the future
of the California golden trout is threatened on several fronts and it
is in danger of becoming extinct throughout its native range. The golden
trout has lived alongside humans in the Sierra since the Gold Rush. However,
the impact of humans has inadvertently caused tremendous pressure on the
species. Among those pressures are the non-native species of trout, and
poor cattle grazing strategies that degrade streambeds and increase sediment.
of stocked rainbow and brook trout, coupled with illegally introduced
brown trout has resulted in predation, competition for resources, and
hybridization which compromises the golden’s genetic integrity.
In addition, since brook and brown trout spawn in the fall, their young
get a head start on the progeny of the spring-spawning goldens. The fragile
high-elevation ecosystem cannot sustain native golden trout under the
For its 2004 conservation
project, Orvis has teamed with California Trout (CalTrout) and Trout Unlimited
of California (TU) to help protect and restore the native California golden
trout in the Golden Trout Wilderness of the Southern Sierra Nevada in
2004. Donations made to the Golden Trout Project will be matched by Orvis
and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, so that each $100 donation
results in $300 toward the project.
mission is to protect and restore wild trout and steelhead and their waters
throughout California. At its inception in 1971, CalTrout was the first
statewide conservation organization dedicated to coldwater fisheries,
with approximately 600 members in its first year of operation. Currently
the organization has 6,000 active members.
strategies are focused on removing the threats to the California golden
trout through a variety of restoration methods. Working with landowners
and cattle ranchers, grazing allotments will be monitored to assess the
impact on essential riparian and aquatic areas. Both CalTrout and TU California
will work closely with the California Department of Fish and Game, the
U.S. Forest service, and Orvis’ new retail stores in San Francisco,
Palo Alto, and Pasadena to develop volunteer work parties and field crews.
These volunteers will erect cattle exclosure fences, collect genetic data,
and improve streambanks through stabilization techniques and willow plantings
in 2004. With key funds raised in the Orvis matching gift campaign, CalTrout
and TU will also conduct genetic studies to determine the genetic purity
of golden trout and the distribution of individual native golden trout
throughout the Golden Trout Wilderness. Finally, TU and CalTrout will
develop education and outreach materials for the public.