Balancing Energy Development With Fish and Wildlife Habitat
State and federal public lands hold some of the most productive fish and wildlife habitat in the country and are vital to meeting our country’s energy needs.
Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development is a coalition led by the TRCP, the National Wildlife Federation and Trout Unlimited that is dedicated to conserving irreplaceable habitats so future generations can hunt and fish on America’s public lands.
A 2012 SFRED study found that from 1969 to 2009, the top 50 counties in the Rocky Mountain West region that contained the highest percentage of land managed for conservation had higher per capita income, higher population growth and higher total employment compared to the 50 counties with lands managed more for intensive energy development.
SFRED works to ensure that our nation’s economic portfolio is considers the responsible development of energy resources as well as the $821 billion annual outdoor recreation economy.
If you’re like me, you are always looking for different ways to prepare wild game. One of my favorite accompaniments to grilled elk is sautéed morel mushrooms. Considered a delicacy in many parts of the world, morels have a delicious nutty flavor that pairs wonderfully with grilled backstrap, and they are a lot of fun to gather.
While expensive at the store, morels can be picked for free in the same woods where you hunt deer and elk. Morels appear in the spring months when the weather begins to warm, and can be found in cottonwood bottoms, woodlots and mountain forests. In the high elevations of the West, morels can be picked as late as July. As a general rule, when you’ve bagged your tom turkey, the time should be right for picking
Morel pickers generally have their best luck finding the mushrooms in recently disturbed areas, such as forests that burned the previous summer, or in cottonwood bottoms with significant beaver activity. From my experience, fires can be the most productive morel picking areas and a single person can gather several pounds in a day if the conditions are favorable.
Morels can easily be dried in a food dehydrator and then stored for a long-time. I generally set aside a bowl of fresh morels to use in the near-term and I then dry the rest and use them for special occasions throughout the year.
When grilling deer or elk steak, sauté onions and morels in butter and finish the mushrooms with a splash of sherry. When the onions are caramelized and the moisture is cooked out of the morels, I pile the mushrooms and onions on top of elk or venison steaks. The blend of flavors is hard to beat, and guests always ask for seconds.
Morels can be used in an almost endless array of meals. You can stuff them with sausage, use them in gravy and get fancy with French cuisine.
While morels are fairly easy to identify, always do your research and know what you are doing before eating wild mushrooms. Morels must be cooked before eaten. Raw morels contain a toxin that will make you sick. That toxin is removed when they are cooked.
My buddy Ryan and I were standing over his kitchen table looking down at a map of Black Canyon of the Gunnison Wilderness Area. The stretch of the Gunnison River that we were eyeballing had the potential to produce some nice trout, and we had heard rumors that the salmon fly hatch might be on. What that means, for anyone who might not be a fluent trout junkie, is that the fish would be feeding on giant bugs with reckless abandon.
But there were other factors to consider.
“I dunno, that’s a hell of a drive down there… and then there’s the hike in,” I responded.
Judging from the map, the route from the rim of the canyon down to the river looked impassable without a parachute. It descended 2,722 feet in two miles. With our fully loaded packs, it would be brutal.
The previous three days fishing the Yampa River near Ryan’s home in Steamboat Springs, Colo., had produced some nice rainbows, but overall things were tough. We were looking to change up our strategy, and the Gunnison seemed like a good bet.
We put in a couple of calls to the National Park Service (the wilderness area is surrounded by Gunnison National Park) and a handful of fly shops that confirmed…well they didn’t confirm anything. Our guts told us that the salmon fly hatch could still be on. We didn’t have a lot to go on, but so what? We loaded up the truck, cranked some bluegrass and were on our way.
The hike down into Black Canyon was just as challenging as it had looked on paper. There was no marked trail and the terrain was made up of boulders, loose rock and sand that left us constantly on tenuous footing.
Feeling a bit haggard about half way down to the river, we crossed paths with a couple from Denver who were on their way back out after a three-day fishing trip.
“It’s on!” they said, beaming with excitement.
They relayed a few stories while we stood there wide-eyed and grinning ear-to-ear, and went on their way. The good news was refreshing, and it fueled us as we made our way down the final, sketchy descent.
When we reached the river, we were greeted by salmon flies the size of B-52 bombers buzzing awkwardly around the canyon and the sweet sound of trout plucking their fallen comrades out of the surface film. They say that trout can take in 70 percent of their yearly protein during the salmon fly hatch. After spending five minutes taking in the scene next to the river, there was no doubt in my mind that this was an accurate statement.
The two days that we spent in the canyon were unforgettable. Big, healthy Gunnison River browns were hitting salmon fly imitations so big and ugly that I would be reluctant to throw them at the scrappy smallies on my home waters of the tidal Potomac. I don’t remember how many fish we caught before a dam release upstream put a damper on the hatch. What I do know is that there were plenty of big fish to keep us both entertained, and to solidify this trip as one of the most unique fishing experiences that I have had to date.
Recently TRCP’s western outreach director, Neil Thagard presented the Wyoming Game & Fish Department $10,000 for the Private Lands Public Wildlife Access Program, which benefits all sportsmen who hunt and fish in the Cowboy State.
During the presentation, Neil expressed concerns surrounding the recent mandated budget cuts and what those cuts mean for fish and wildlife management, businesses and sportsmen. In the last budget session, the Wyoming Legislature demanded the Department cut $4.6 million from its FY14 budget. Such cuts will adversely impact fish and wildlife resources and hunting and angling opportunities.