Will We Bequeath a Living Legacy — or Only a Memory?

Incredibly, four summers on ***** Creek have come and gone for us.  Some trout in the stream have become like “old friends,” having caught them multiple times over the years. A few photos on the site are of some of the same trout—from year to year.  We’ve watched them grow and blossom into mature Alvord phenotypes, which is truly a wonder to behold.

We’ve also fished favorite haunts where we’ve found these mature trout in years gone by—and not been able to successfully find them again.  They don’t live forever and a generation for these trout is a relatively short period of time for us.

It can seem disheartening to contemplate what the future for the remnant of alvordensis in ***** Creek might be — but it shouldn’t have to be sad or difficult at all.  As with most endeavors in the human experience, willingness and real action determines the outcome.

Though many excuses can be used to attempt to justify inaction: “…don’t have the time,” “…too many things that need to be done,” “…don’t know for sure what these trout are,” “… aren’t suitable areas to place the trout,” “…want to see genetic studies before deciding what to do,” “…they’ve been here so long, a few more years won’t matter;” yet those that roll up their sleeves with “it really needs to be done so I’m going to get it done” do succeed.

Brook Trout have successfully been restored to their home stream by dedicated fisheries personnel who went to great lengths to secure the remaining handful of “brookies” from the system, and hatchery re-propagate them, while effecting riparian zone restoration to allow for reintroduction.  In the end; the trout, the stream, and the public were winners.

A population of Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout has been, and is being, restored to their native domains by similar work from the New Mexico Game and Fish Department: NM RG cutts

The rescue and restoration of the phenotypical Alvord cutthroat trout remnant in ***** Creek is all within the realm of possibility.  The real question for the powers that do have opportunity to revitalize these trout — is whether it is in the realm of will-ability for them.

As Dr. Behnke has stated “The costs of extinction far outweigh the ‘costs’ of preservation.” “There are no logical reasons that (genetic and other proposals) should be a prerequisite for a transplant.  Selection during spawning-taking has created phenotypic duplicates of Lahontan cutthroat in Heenan Lake, CA and of Yellowstone cutts in Henrys Lake, ID.  In both examples, a small degree of rainbow trout hybridization persists, but is not phenotypically expressed…”  (Dr. Behnke, letter to ODFW personnel, February 2010  Additional Alvord Reintroduction Thoughts)

From a nature lover and sportsman’s perspective, one might even take it a step further: Given the current circumstances, do we really care whether the trout are “pure” Alvords if they are a trout that so looks and behaves as an Alvord cutthroat trout that for all intents and purposes we cannot tell the difference?

For most native trout enthusiasts, the answer is “no.”  It is the striking outer appearance and distinct characteristics that we can see and appreciate that make these trout so very sought-after.  The stunningly beautiful appearance and the fortitude that characterizes these trout is what we all desire to see and experience… It isn’t whether a strand-sequence or a locus of chromosome #29 is TGAC rather than GACT.

Even if not 100% genetically pure; if with a distinct outward show of beauty and compelling characteristics that strongly imply Alvord heritage — then, for us; it might as well be one!

We’ve asked the questions why does it matter? What difference does it make? (In Intrinsic Value of Rescue | Restoration of the Alvord Phenotype)  Yet intellectual arguments do not really do justice to the subject at hand — because it really is a matter of desire and of will. …Of recognizing the precious limited resource currently at hand and earnestly seeking the way to protect, preserve, propagate and finally restore the ′extinct′ Alvord cutthroat trout.

A fundamental question is—do we care enough to act—or are we too burdened with other tasks and responsibilities so that all that will be bequeathed to our children’s children is the memoryof what was once one of the most unique and distinctly beautiful trout of all time?

Alvord Cutthroat Trout

This streamside mature male Alvord phenotype is one trout that we’ve landed a few times over the years . . . . Just a brief glimpse of his picture and our hearts start beating rapidly!!!

We estimate that this trout is between six and seven years old.  He was considered mature when we first caught him over three years ago.  Yet, since then, we have seen him progress through his prime.  It is now quite possible, if not probable, that this will be his last year… The opportunity to spawn and preserve his genetic composition may thus be lost—forever.

While it’s almost certain this trout has other genetic composition; it is also true that from a standpoint of appearance he shows the known visible characteristics of an Alvord cutthroat trout.  A fisheries biologist or ichthyologist looking at it would identify an Alvord cutthroat.

The rose red opercula; the crimson lateral line with brick red hues; the olive back; brassy sides; purplish lower fins; light spotting on the back all above the lateral line; with intense spotting on the caudal peduncle and fins; and the fire engine slash—all predominate in this trout (original descriptions by Hubbs’ from 1934 sampling of Trout Creek & Virgin Creek).

Yet, the fact that they’re “still here” doesn’t by any means infer that they are common or easy to come by.  The reality is near the opposite end of the spectrum—especially optimal phenotypes that defy the tell-tale clues of hybridization.  What if only 1 in 20 trout in ***** Creek are decent Alvord phenotypes? Are they not worth the effort of saving?  What if just 1 in 100 is respectable?  Are they not then all-the-more valuable and urgently warranted to be protected and preserved?

We can testify that the reality is nearer to the latter end of that scale than the former end.  And as years pass, the scale and opportunity is surely sliding to the thinner and leaner end.

So why delay?  What is gained by letting things get worse?  Even if genetic detail is found regarding the Alvords from the 1934 Hubbs’ collection—and these trout are found to be of mixed genetics—with only some of the alleles of the Hubbs’ samples…  So what?  Would it make any difference regarding rescue/restoration of the desirable visible characteristics? How much more difficult—how much more time consuming—would a project become that utilizes allelic variants as criterion for separation and breeding of trout from ***** Creek?

We consider these trout to be hybrids, but so what when they show Alvord characteristics!

While it may be a good idea to catalogue the genome of the Alvord cutthroat trout, it is also inevitable it will be impossible to catalogue the entire genetic makeup of alvordensis from the 80 year old Hubbs’ samples; thus we’ll be dealing with just a very partial deck of data.

Yet can’t we plainly see the difference between alvordensis vs humboldtensis side by side?

alvordensis behind humboldtensis

Alvord cutthroat trout (alvordensis) phenotype rising behind a Willow-Whitehorse cutthroat trout (humboldtensis)

In his book Native Trout of North America, Bob Smith mentions that mature male adult Alvords seem to develop a bolder, more intense red coloration, while the females seem to show a brick red hue.  Having seen the maturation and progression of some of these trout over a few years, this would certainly seem to be true.

Considering “old school” identification methodologies and analysis, there is no question where the simple identification lands.  The only question is what we do with the answers.

I’m reminded of the history of the Hungarian Vizsla, a rare breed of canine in the pointer class, of which we’re privileged to have one in the family.  Post WWII the Hungarian govt. could only locate a dozen Vizslas from which to re-propagate the breed. Yet now thousands of this rare breed are found in American homes—registered by the AKC.  Was it worth the effort to revive this breed from only a dozen progenitors?  Vizsla families would shout yes!

So, again, it comes back to action and willingness to really get the job done.  As years have gone by, it would seem all the more crucial to carry out a plan of securing and preserving the best of the Alvord phenotypes; placing optimal phenotypes into a suitable hatchery environment and breeding a vital replenishment population, and restoring these selectively bred trout into an ideal, safe and healthy (fully prepared) environment.  …If no other ideal stream seems readily available, then perhaps placing the trout back into ***** Creek is a possibility—with the humboldtensis and henshawi effectively removed.  The intent of all this is to carry out a virtual miracle—in essence the revitalization and restoration of this “extinct” strain of Alvord cutthroat trout!

Hungarian Vizsla contemplating Alvord cutthroat trout...

Our Vizsla, Dori, seems to be pondering what the future of the rare trout in the photo­arium might be.  Yet, we humans hold the key to that future for this rare form of cutthroat trout.

This is not meant to overlook the complexity or the challenges presented by the reality interwoven in this chapter of cutthroat trout preservation.  Indeed, it may be possible to cull the other forms of cutthroat trout in ***** Creek, and allow the Alvord phenotypes to predominate… It may also be possible to translocate Alvord phenotypes into a suitable stream (if possible to do so and avoid the disappointment that occurred with the small remnant of Alvord phenotypes translocated from Virgin Creek, NV to Jackson Creek, NV).

Yet, while not intending to overlook the difficulties involved, it is intended to be suggestive of what may be the most expedient and efficient method to rescue and preserve the Alvord phenotypes that still remain in the *****Creek system—and thus keep alive a hope for the remaining phenotypical Alvord cutthroat trout—for this and for all generations to come…

(For a critically rare strain of trout—such as this remnant of phenotypical Alvord cutthroat trout—to us, it seems that a dedicated hatchery facility is the best way to rebuild the base of trout phenotypically (in appearance) representative of the Alvord cutthroat; to bring the numbers where they can be utilized for reintroduction into their native range and domain.)

Alvord cutthroat trout phenotype in photoarium

Smith also noted that some Virgin Creek alvordensis reflected a spark of orange in lower fins—what he identified as a “trace” of redband.  Some ***** Creek trout, like the female below, reflect the softer intensity and rosy hue Smith noted in the females of Virgin Creek.

Female Alvord phenotype with soft hues

Ultimately the question for us—for our generation; for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; for the US Fish and Wildlife Service; for Trout Unlimited; for geneticists; indeed for all of us here and now—is whether we will give to and leave for the generations to come more than just a photograph of what once was.  Will we give to them the living reality and the living proof of the beautiful trout that miraculously was saved from extirpation, by the actual caring and concern of this generation—wisely carrying out action and displaying the will to truly get the job done?  Or will we fail ourselves, the trout, and generations to come?

Sreamside beautiful Alvord cutthroat trout phenotype

If we can remember what it was first like to recognize and appreciate a rare unique species (in contrast to what happens when we get caught up in the business of our work-a-day life) —was it easier then to believe that we, as humankind, should do all that we can to protect and preserve the earth and all of the magnificent and wonderful species of this frail planet?

Perhaps such questions would best be addressed to those who will inherit tomorrow —whether they would still like to see and experience rare and beautiful species that we have an opportunity to save for them, and for future generations, to truly enjoy and appreciate.

Personally, our heartfelt desire is that we and other native trout enthusiasts would be able to catch and release the offspring of this trout: offspring displaying the same characteristics and stunning beauty—now; and for generations to comein perpetuity.

Please submit letters of support for an Alvord phenotype rescue and restoration project to: Shannon Hurn, ODFW District Office, 237 Highway 20 South/PO Box 8, Hines, OR 97738 kortumofdiscovery@gmail.com  —  Here is an example of an excellent Letter of Support

© KOD 9-2011


About kortumofdiscovery

Kortum of Discovery (a slight play on Lewis & Clark's Corps of Discovery) is a family team that is Affirming the Exceptional Beauty of Nature, one Adventure at a Time. With a focus toward rare and endangered species in the Great Basin and American west: discoveries, unique methodologies, and many “tall tales to tell” are continually being shared around the campfire!
This entry was posted in Fisheries Biology and Genetics, Observations, Photo Journals. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Will We Bequeath a Living Legacy — or Only a Memory?

  1. Pingback: A Picture worth a Thousand Words – A Priceless Illustration | Alvord Cutthroat Trout — Phenotype       Remnant Rescue‎ | ‎Restoration Précis

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