Trout Unlimited (TU) is a national sportsmen’s organization that makes fishing better by conserving, protecting and restoring trout and salmon and their watersheds in North America. So why is TU interested in the Bodie Hills, a complex of public lands which offers virtually no fishing opportunities at present, as well as a founding member of the Bodie Hills Conservation Partnership?
This question can be answered in five words: water, habitat, and potential angling opportunity.
First, water. The Bodie Hills are the ecological transition zone between the Great Basin and the eastern Sierra Nevada—which means they are in the rain shadow of the Sierra and are characterized by high desert sage and scrub ecology. Yet the Bodies do collect some snow and rain and their porous bedrock filters and releases it into small streams, such as Rough and Arastra Creeks, which, surprisingly, are seasonally an important water source for the East Walker River and its legendary wild trout fishery.
A proposed open pit gold mine above upper Rough Creek, in the heart of a Wilderness Study Area, could degrade water quality and other habitat values in this stream—and perhaps even in the lower East Walker River. TU’s involvement in the effort to better protect the Bodie Hills began in earnest when a foreign-owned mining interest sought approval to develop a claim for the Paramount mine project. Our engagement in this conservation campaign has focused on publicizing the habitat and sporting values of this remarkable area, and organizing sportsmen and women to support good conservation outcomes in the Bodies. TU has led or helped organize cleanup events and fishing outings with service veterans, in partnership with Vet Voice Foundation.
Second, the Bodies have very high habitat values, especially terrestrial habitat. Since the Gold Rush era, the Bodie Hills have seen little development—they have not been sliced and diced by many roads, fences, mines or ditches. Thus, this area is home to a number of game species, among them a population of bi-state sage grouse, one of the few pronghorn herds in California, and some of the biggest mule deer bucks in the state. The Bodies are well known among deer hunters who may wait for years to draw a tag for the fabled X-12 zone.
While many of TU’s members also hunt, our interest in the habitat values of the Bodies includes aquatic habitat in Rough, Arastra and Bodie Creeks. Historically, these streams were spawning and rearing habitat for the Lahontan cutthroat trout, the trout species native to the Walker River watershed. And with a little work, they could be again—in fact, a small population of Lahontans was transplanted successfully some years back to Bodie Creek. The Lahontan cutthroat is now formally listed as a Threatened species, and analyses linked to the federal recovery plan for this beautiful native fish indicate that with some restoration work Rough and Arastra Creeks could also be repopulated with Lahontans.
Which leads us to potential fishing opportunities in the Bodies. Most tributaries to the East Walker River have trout in them and are fishable. Presently Rough and Arastra Creeks may have non-native trout in their reaches that remain wet through the dry season. They are technically open for fishing (with a Nevada fishing license). But there is little or no public access to them. With some cooperative work with the BLM and Forest Service and grazing permit holders, and some habitat restoration, Rough and Arastra Creeks could provide backcountry small stream fishing opportunity.
Every angler and hunter knows that there is no sporting opportunity without good habitat. If the current trend of a warming climate continues, lower elevation streams and upland habitat will continue to get drier and become less productive for cold water fish (like trout) and wildlife, and higher elevation habitat such as that found in the Bodie Hills will become even more important. We must protect our last, best wild places where Americans can fish and hunt. The Bodie Hills is one such place, and deserves special designation to ensure it remains that way.