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WSU/Pend Oreille Extension introduced the Sense of Place series in 1999, with a focus on place-based stewardship education. Since 2001, a partnership with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians Natural Resources Department (KNRD) has supported this newsletter and allowed us to expand class offerings through EPA funding. Further staff support comes through Renewable Resources Extension Act (RREA). Many thanks to our partners and to you, our readers, for your continued enthusiasm for "digging" into the natural history and culture of this part of the world.

Invaders and Indicators

by Carol Mack • WSU/Pend Oreille County Extension

Times change, and so do the things we value. A few generations ago, the West was still viewed as a frontier to be tamed. There was a seemingly endless supply of clear, cold creeks and wildlife, and it was unthinkable that our local actions could change that situation. Flowers from the homeland were planted, thousands of Mackinaw trout and brook trout were laboriously carried to remote Pend Oreille streams and lakes. For many of our grandparents, the challenge was to keep the introduced plants and animals alive—no one dreamed that some of them would take over. Similarly, many of the public projects that have improved our lives were established at a time when habitat for endangered species was at the bottom of the list. If it was easiest to build roads right next to creeks, that’s where they went. Dams and culverts were installed with little consideration for fish passage and we even hired crews to remove the logs that had fallen into creeks to improve access and flow, not realizing their value to fish habitat.

It’s sadly true that we often don’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone. The decline of our native fish sounds an alarm we have only recently heard. Our grandparents were acting according to the wisdom of their day, and we can’t blame them for their actions, but we can learn from their mistakes. We are incredibly lucky to be living in a place with enough clean, cold creeks and lakes to still support these fish at all. Our native trout, by their very presence, reassure us that we haven’t completely mucked up this spot.

The goal of local recovery efforts is to establish thriving native fisheries in some of the tributaries to the Pend Oreille River—not just “museum” populations that fulfill legal obligations, but enough fish for sport and for food. But for those of us unlikely to ever meet a bull trout or cutthroat on a fishing line, the real value of their presence is as an indicator. Can we fix past management mistakes, protect our wonderful cold, clean water, and keep some of the wild pristine nature of this area alive? In our watershed, it is still possible, and these picky, demanding native fish will lead the way.

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