Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Cutthroat Business of Yellowstone National Park

Did I hook you with the title to this post?  I hope so, because today's post has everything to do with the Cutthroat Trout of Yellowstone Park.

I have never been to Yellowstone National Park.  Oh, I've watched documentaries on television, read a National Geographic Book, seen the gorgeous photos that some (lucky) friends personally took when they toured it last year.  But I have yet to make the journey myself.  Have you ever been there?  If not, let me tell you a little bit about what we're missing.

Established on March 1, 1872, Yellowstone Park is our nations first national park.  Spanning an area of over 3468 sq. miles, the park is made up of canyons, mountains, rivers, lakes and a volcano.


Activities abound and surely there is something for everyone.  Over 2 million visitors per yer are enjoying the camping, backpacking, hiking, and snowmobiling that the park has to offer.  Like to sight see?  How about visiting Old Faithful?  I'd love to go to Specimen Ridge to view the petrified trees, Tower Fall where there is a 132 ft. drop of Tower Creek or Calcite Springs where you can view the thermal springs.  Yellowstone has the largest public held herd of bison in the United States.  With almost 60 species of mammals calling the park their home, visitors each year enjoy sightings of grizzly bear, wolves, elk, deer, moose, mountain lion and bighorn sheep, among others. The sky is filled with 311 species of birds and the lakes teem with 18 different species of fish.

The main focus of this post however, is to bring attention to the plight of the cutthroat trout populations of Yellowstone Park.  Yellowstone is home to the most ecologically and economically important inland cutthroat fisheries that remain in North America.


Due to the introduction of non-native lake trout, the numbers of cutthroat trout are quickly diminishing.  Approximately 20 years ago, lake trout were placed in Yellowstone Lake by persons unknown.  Perhaps intentionally, perhaps in error.  No one knows for certain.  The resulting problem is that lake trout feed on cutthroat at an amazing rate of 40-50 each per year.  Lake trout also compete with cutthroat for the same food source.  Since the introduction of lake trout to Yellowstone Lake, the cutthroat numbers have severely declined.


The loss of cutthroat trout also directly affects the food chain of Yellowstone. Cutthroat are a valuable food source to many animals, but in particular the grizzly and black bear, as well as otters, osprey, and eagles.  According to a report posted on the NPS, spawning cutthroat contain high quantities of protein and lipids that are valuable sources of energy to grizzly bears in particular.  For 2 months each year, spawning cutthroat are the predominant food source for many of the bear in the Yellowstone Lake area.  Unfortunately, lake trout do not provide the same dietary benefits to the bear as the cutthroat.  Plus, lake trout don't move up the tributaries streams to spawn like the cutthroat do.  By remaining in the deeper depths of the lake, the lake trout therefore are not available to the bear or other animals.

Today, massive efforts are underway to curb and/or eliminate the presence of lake trout in Yellowstone Lake.   Wyoming Trout Unlimited has partnered with the NPS by purchasing transmitters that are attached to lake trout in order to track their movements and discover their spawning areas.  Options are currently being studied for ways to remove the eggs from the spawning beds.   By July of 2011, a fleet of netting boats had captured 150,000 lake trout, with hopes of netting even larger numbers this year.  The commercial boats set heavy trap lines in shallower water  in an attempt to capture larger lake trout of spawning age.  The advantage of the live trap nets is that no cutthroat trout get killed in the process.

Unfortunately, all these techniques and solutions cost money.  Currently the project has been funded mainly by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Wyoming Trout Unlimited and the National Park Conservation Agency.   But it's not enough.  The Outdoor Blogger Network has joined forces with Trout Unlimited, Simms, and the Yellowstone Park Foundation to reach out to the blogging community in an effort to raise awareness on this issue by hosting a writing contest.  2 winners of the contest will get the opportunity of a lifetime and secure a trip to Yellowstone.  While there, they will climb aboard a commerical fishing vessel and witness the invasive  lake trout being pulled from the lake.  They will also get to fish for the cutthroat trout as well as many other trout species.  In addition, the winners will speak to fishery experts and hear presentations on the recovery and restoration projects currently underway.  This sounds like an excellent opportunity to receive information first hand and pass it on to our readers.

Which brings me back to the beginning of my post.  No, I've never been to Yellowstone Park.  I've never had the opportunity to witness the majesty of the park in person.  It would be exciting to view the flowers blooming in the mountain meadows, the see the bison roam on the range, to enjoy the bears, and elk and a multitude of other animals.  And while I'm an avid fisher woman of bluegill, crappie and bass, I have yet to fish for trout. ....  of any kind. And that kind of hits home for me.  That is precisely the reason that the cutthroat population at Yellowstone must be revived.  Once they are eliminated, they are gone forever.  Think about what we won't see at Yellowstone if the lake trout problem isn't curtailed.  It makes me sad when I  wonder if the glorious cuththroat trout we do see now and what we won't see in the future are the same thing.

“This is my submission for the Trout UnlimitedSimms, the Yellowstone Park Foundationand the Outdoor Blogger Network – Blogger Tour 2012 contest.”


  1. I grew up a day's drive from Yellowstone and have been there many times. It's an amazing place! Unfortunately, it's super-crowded in the summer months. Go in spring or fall if you can.

  2. Yellowstone is amazing, and you must see it! It takes a few days to explore the entire park. I've seen the bears, the elk, coyotes, bison, and so many beautiful animals in the wild.

    It would be a shame to see such a beautiful and majestic place like Yellowstone suffer anymore of a decline than it already has.

    I have fished for trout, and have caught, and eaten many species. I have even caught 2 trout on the same line, not once, but twice! My kids flipped!

    Great post Kim!

  3. I did know this. Thanks for this alarming information.

  4. Never been, a dream to go someday!!!

    Best of luck with the contest, I hope you win!

    Invasive species are a problem in many parts of the world! :o(


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