As winter begins to lose its grip on the Pacific Northwest and the rain clouds occasionally give way to ever so brief sun breaks, the month of March marks an exciting time for “wildlife” regionally and across the country. A veritable diversity of “animals” from across the landscape gather together in various regions of the country and engage in interspecific competition. Grizzlies will battle badgers, owls may take on golden bears, and bearcats will tussle with longhorns. While wildcats, jayhawks and even wolverines will be included, sadly the beavers, cougars, ducks and huskies will all be left out of this year’s “March Madness”.
The NCAA tournament is generally reserved for teams sporting mammalian, avian or even reptilian mascots. Very rarely are fish invited to the “Big Dance”. After being ESA listed in 1998, bull trout have been in a tournament of their own. Much like how a scrappy, physically overmatched regional college feeds off of emotion and frantically launches threes to hang with perennial ACC or Big East powerhouses, weakened bull trout populations throughout the Columbia Basin are faced with seemingly insurmountable opponents as they attempt to advance toward recovery. In the NCAA tournament, any given basketball team must face and defeat numerous opponents as they progress through the tournament. Similarly, bull trout survival and eventual recovery does not depend upon prevailing over only one major threat, but instead a combination of multiple factors must be overcome. Factors such as habitat degradation, hybridization and a changing climate (among others) are the Kentucky, Syracuse and Duke of the bull trout world. To continue the analogy, on the other side of the bracket, resource managers are working to address many factors that influence bull trout recovery. Management actions that facilitate genetically diverse, interconnected populations and provide for habitat protection and enhancement are essential to bull trout recovery.
Seemingly every year, a small school defies the odds and rises from obscurity to topple dominant programs as they advance through the NCAA tournament. They are often referred to as a “Cinderella Team”. Through persistence, cooperation, adaptive management and maybe even a little luck, it’s possible that the recovery and eventual delisting of bull trout could be a “Cinderella Story” of its own.
Submitted by Marshall Barrows