Farewell to a Legend

Last month, we lost one of the great leaders in trout conservation as Robert J. Behnke, Ph.D., passed away on September 13th at the age of 83.  Dr. Behnke was a professor emeritus of Fisheries Conservation and Wildlife Biology at Colorado State University.  During his illustrious career, he authored more than 100 articles and papers regarding fish and fisheries; helped re-discover two subspecies of native trout previously believed extinct (Pyramid Lake strain Lahontan cutthroat, and Colorado’s state fish the Greenback cutthroat trout); and brought fisheries science to decades of TROUT magazine readers through his “About Trout” column. Dr. Behnke was an unforgettable and outspoken voice for trout conservation, from supporting hatchery reform in California to promoting native trout restoration throughout western North America.  He inspired countless anglers and conservationists to value the beauty and uniqueness of native trout – and his years of work in translating the intricacies of fisheries science for a mass audience led Colorado TU to recognize him with its 2002 Trout Communications Award following the publication of his magnum opus, Trout and Salmon of North America.  Beyond his numerous publications and many personal achievements, perhaps his greatest legacy may be seen through the work of the generations of fish biologists who he influenced while serving on faculty at Colorado State University.

Dr. Behnke once wrote on his life’s research work by reflecting that his “career covers the period of the transition from the strictly anthropocentric, utilitarian based management of natural resources to a more ecocentric, holistic ecosystem form of management based on Aldo Leopold's land ethic. My work and publications over a 40 year period reflect this transition.”

His work as a researcher and educator will be carried forward by his own TU chapter, the Rocky Mountain Flycasters, through its Robert J. Behnke Fellowship. Dr. Behnke contributed the original endowment for this annual award, which supports the research of Colorado State University graduate students in coldwater fisheries research.  Before his death, he asked that in lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory be made to this fellowship.  You can contribute using the Rocky Mountain Flycasters’ convenient online donation page or by sending donations for the Robert J. Behnke Fellowship to the Department of Fish and Wildlife and Conservation Biology at CSU Foundation , PO Box 1870, Fort Collins, CO 80522.

Read more about Dr Behnke in the Ft Collins' Coloradoan.

Share your memories of Dr Behnke and read those of others here.

Listen to Dr Behnke’s reflections on “a life with trout” on a Midcurrent podcast.

Support the Robert J. Behnke Fellowship.