A fishing spot revealed, not revered | VailDaily.com

A fishing spot revealed, not revered

Ken Neubecker

The San Juan River below Navajo Dam is one of the best trout fisheries in the country. Its a great place to spend a few days in the late fall. I just got back to Eagle after some serious quality time on the quality water there. I had to bring one Rainbow to shore to release him because he was too big to get in the net. Next time I’ll take a bigger net.This stretch of the San Juan has a river habitat that supports a tremendous number of Rainbow trout who quickly grow into large and healthy fish. It is also entirely artificial. All of the great ‘Tailwater’ trout fisheries, fisheries below large reservoirs, are artificially created trout habitat. If you like to fish for trophy trout these places are pretty hard to beat.It got me thinking more about habitat and what people do with it. It’s a neat trick to create a world class trout fishery in the desert, but at what cost? What was flooded? What and who were displaced for the new dam, reservoir and now highly regulated river downstream?The Audubon Society recently released their State of the Birds USA 2004 report and if you like birds the news is not at all encouraging. Nearly one in three bird species are in “serious decline”, due primarily to loss of habitat from human activity. Grassland birds, like those found on the Eastern Plains, are in the greatest peril. The plains and most other grasslands in Colorado are not very similar in appearance or function to the original habitat that supported the birds and a host of other animals. We have literally changed the face and body of the land, creating another artificial habitat. This time it’s one that supports little other than ourselves.The greatest numbers of birds are found in water, riparian or wetland habitat. Indeed, most of Colorado’s wildlife depends on wetlands and riparian habitat for part or all of their lives. Loss and degradation of these habitats not only causes serious harm to species and populations, it also hurts us. The bottom line is that we are still dependent on healthy habitats for our own well being. Bird populations are a bell-weather, and to see such a large decline across the board in bird populations is alarming. Something is seriously wrong.Human activity such as poor land use, clear cutting, draining wetlands, growth and sprawl, poor agricultural practices and others are all cited in the Audubon report as causes for habitat loss and degradation. Human activity has been destroying and degrading habitat all over the world for a very long time, but not as completely as is happening now.The unfortunate thing is that now we know better. We also know how to work with other species to try and prevent these alarming losses in habitat and populations. We do so out of ignorance and too often a political lack of will. Cost is often an excuse, but rarely a legitimate factor.Our own backyards can provide valuable habitat for birds, if we’re willing to put in a little effort. Birds, like all animals need some simple basics such as food, water, shelter from he weather and predators and a place to raise a family. Put out some feeders and a heated bird bath near some trees with cover from the wind and watch what happens.I’ve got all kinds of birds in my backyard, far more kinds and numbers than were likely here when the yard was a hay field. Most of the Golf Courses in the Eagle Valley are also on the habitat improvement kick as well, some even have certification from Audubon. The National Wildlife Federation has a great program to help you create your own Backyard Habitat. All the information is on their web site, http://www.nwf.org.This brings me back to the tailwaters and the San Juan. Dams and reservoirs can be very destructive when formerly rich and diverse habitat becomes a lake. At the same time they can create an even richer habitat, however artificial, below. The key to maintaining these new habitats is in the reservoir operations. This is something new, alien and too often threatening for dam operators steeped in the old traditions of the River Engineer. However, when we destroy or create a situation that sustains so many different lives and life forms, we have obligations going beyond our own limited self interest. When we play God we need to consider all the animals on the ‘Ark’.The tailwater fishery below a dam might be an unintended bonus, or it can actually be written in as a part of the dams rational and mitigation. In either case its usually a boon to the local economy, the river and all it’s wildlife from the bugs, to fish to the birds. But that’s only if the river is maintained properly. There is no reason that Dam operations and downstream habitat can’t be managed for the good of all. Entrenched bureaucratic foot dragging is no excuse.There is also no reason that we can’t live and operate our own lives in a way that is more beneficial for birds and other wildlife in Colorado. With 70 percent of the grassland birds of North America in significant decline and many other species in serious trouble, we better. VTKen Neubecker writes about water and the environment for the Vail Trail. He can be reached for comment at eagleriver@eagleranch.com.

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