When we think of western wilderness, we think big. Big landscapes, big game, mountains and buttes and brawling rivers, broad meadows with elk and moose and bear.
We think less often of smaller things, of native fish like Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Each subspecies of cutthroat trout is typically restricted to a few major watersheds, each subspecies adapted to the unique environmental conditions of its natal waters, each the product of diverse and dynamic evolutionary pressures, from floods and droughts to glaciers and megafloods and earthquakes and lava flows. You can fish for browns and rainbows practically anywhere in the west, practically anywhere on the planet. Western cutthroat belong here.
Despite their resilience, western cutthroat have had a tough time coping with dams and ditches, and the introduction of non-native species. Today, western cutthroat trout are practically synonymous with wilderness. Large reserves of native vegetation, intact riparian corridors, and minimal human alteration allow cutthroat trout the conditions they need to persist on the landscape. People recognize the value of western cutthroat to wilderness, too- feeding the bears and eagles and ospreys and otters, drawing nutrients from downstream back into headwaters during annual spawning movements.
Wilderness and the native fish they protect are valued by local communities, too. Native cutthroat trout provide significant fisheries and economic benefits. Worth protecting for all- more than 80% of Wyoming residents agreed with the statement future generations should get the same consideration as current generations when managing natural resources.
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