Article Last Updated: 10/06/2007 09:15:20 PM MDT
IDAHO FALLS, IDAHO - It is more than mere commitment that connects these trout conservationists, north and south. More than native trout restoration, more than roadless protection, more than battles against the relentless hum of off-road- vehicles. More, even, than the stench of oil and gas.
When Tom Reed leaves his home in Bozeman, Mont., to fight the infidels in Montana and Wyoming, it's always with a glance back down the continent toward Golden, where he was born and where his parents still live.
From Chris Hunt's perch in Idaho Falls, he often can sail southward to Colorado, where he grew up in Littleton and gained his degree at Western State.
Now here's the strange part, another of those links that keeps winding through the passions of the people who seek to protect trout and other wild things in a time of rampant development: Hunt worked as a college intern at the Gunnison Country Times newspaper. Reed was his editor.
Their paths took separate turns - Hunt to various jobs at small southern Colorado papers before joining Trout Unlimited, Reed through deeper curves to the National Outdoor Leadership School in Lander, Wyo., then as information supervisor of Wyoming Game and Fish, then to TU.
Having come full circle, they now find themselves standing at the same streamside, preaching a gospel of moderation against drilling platforms that threaten both rare cutthroat trout and the downstream watersheds that harbor rainbows and browns.
Reed, who carries a nebulous title - backcountry organizer - spends much of his time on rampant energy issues in both states.
"Drilling is the major thing, but secondarily it's the impact of all the housing development associated with it," he says.
Reed's current preoccupation also includes a campaign to bring Wyoming water law into the 21st century as a way to boost in-stream flows, much like a similar initiative in an equally backward Colorado.
"We're working on a lot of things. We work hard on it," Reed says.
As director of TU's public lands initiative, Hunt's endeavor takes him all over the West. Not surprising, much of his attention focuses on oil and gas - from Colorado's Roan Plateau to a fresh wave of leases in Montana on the Beaverhead and the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone.
"That's the issue connecting everything we're doing. The Bureau of Land Management is becoming much more aggressive in its leasing policy. Instead of the usual pattern of issuing leases every four months, they're now down to two."
Trout Unlimited's endeavors in the northern Rockies include other connections, much closer to home. Matt Woodard, Hunt's neighbor in Idaho Falls, works as TU's project manager on an initiative to maintain populations of indigenous large-spotted cutthroat trout on the Snake River below Palisades Dam.
"I'm a valley native. I fished all over this country since I was a kid," said Woodard, a TU employee since 2001.
As he says this, Woodard holds the oars of a drift boat on the Snake's 10,000-cubic- foot-per-second crest, a liquid platform that makes rowing, and fishing, less than easy.
But it's what happens at an earlier time on the Snake that holds Wood- ard's concern. His primary focus is to keep rainbow trout from degrading the historic cutthroat habitat below Palisades Reservoir. To that end he works in concert with Idaho Game and Fish and the local TU chapter to stifle rainbow spawning, to promote more advantageous flows, improve habitat and remove as many adult rainbows as possible to curtail hybridization.
"This is one of the great populations of Yellowstone cutthroat left in the wild," Woodard said. "It's certainly worth saving them."
That's the sort of commitment that trout lovers everywhere can understand.