Fauna of the National Parks
of the United States
PROBLEMS OF COMPETITIVE ORIGIN
Fishes constitute the only wild-life resource which is harvested in the national parks. Because of this, the administrative relations involved have a unique aspect. Wild flowers are to be enjoyed in place and the timber in the trees is not to be utilized. No animal is hunted, and only the fish is angled from its native waters. Fish culture is practiced to prevent depletion and to extend the pleasures of the sport to waters not naturally stocked.
It is not the intention here to question the merit of this important exception to general policy, for, admittedly, the direct benefit to man overrules the disadvantages which are incidentally incurred. However, it seems fitting to pause, before taking up the faunal complications involved, long enough to register a plea that in each park one watershed shall be set aside for the preservation of the aquatic biota in its undisturbed primitive state. In these areas there would never be any planting of fish or fish foods, and fishing would be carefully regulated so as not to deplete the breeding stock. The time is rapidly approaching when these would be the only places on the continent where the native trout could be seen and studied in their primitive haunts unmodified by human influence.
Perhaps the immense value of preserving certain wilderness waters can be best emphasized in the recounting of an incident which took place some years ago. It happened on the occasion of a pack trip in the upper Kern Canyon, California. A member of the party who was a prominent citizen of this country was about to fulfill a lifetime ambition to catch golden trout in its native stream. He had traveled nearly 3,000 miles and tramped a few more weary ones expressly for this purpose. This man was no ichthyologist, merely a devotee of Izaak Walton who had sampled noted trout waters in all parts of the earth.
On a bright morning one of the writers scrambled up the steep walls of Volcano Creek with the one who was going to realize his dream of gold. But surprisingly enough, he chose to take only two trout. They were laid side by side on the green bank, turned over and over, admired and carefully compared. Fishing was good, but why steal more from this precious source when the interest lay in catching a trout in this particular stream and not in the weight of the creel? This was a new concept to the writer, and since that day limits have no longer been the measure of successful fishing days.
There is a very special joy in finding out streams where there are native trout undisturbed by any artificialities. Wilderness streams would always provide this thrill in addition to serving as scientific laboratories. It is to be hoped that suitable reserves for fish will be set aside in the parks before it is too late.
Wherever trout are planted it is inevitable that birds and mammals will take a certain percentage of the total. Since man spends money and effort to place fish in streams and lakes, and intends them for his own use, he is dismayed when others share in the feast, enjoying meals that he has already bought and paid for. Yet it would be destructive of major national-park values to kill otters, ospreys, mergansers, kingfishers, mink, gulls, bears, loons, pelicans, and others, in order to prevent losses from those sources.
Inasmuch as fishing robs the fish-eating animals of their normal food supply, it would seem perfectly proper that a fair proportion of the output of the fish hatcheries should be allotted to them. Members of the fishing fraternity would be the first to grant this concession in return for the unusual privilege that is theirs in having their sport in areas otherwise closed to hunting. Nor can the problem of conflict between fish culture and the animals dependent on fish ever be solved satisfactorily until the principle is recognized that man must raise trout for the wild life as well as for himself in national parks.
This does not mean that precautions against excessive depredations can not be taken. The most effective of these is to hold trout in rearing ponds until they are at least 6 inches in length, which, after all, is only practicing what fish culturists advocate as the proper restocking method anyway.
Occasionally bears raid fish traps. This is a special form of damage which has been met successfully by surrounding the inclosures with live wires. A consistent offender that refused to be put off could be destroyed or trapped and shipped away. The same treatment of taking the life of an individual bird or mammal inflicting abnormal havoc may be permissible at other times, but it should always be a special case with certain proof of guilt at hand. To wage war against a species would be to sacrifice the whole purpose of the park to one special interest.
Red-breasted mergansers in Glacier. Glacier National Park abounds in good fishing. Mergansers were seen on a few occasions by the survey party during five weeks of travel in the park. The relative scarcity of these birds in what seemed to be such ideal ground for them was the subject of comment.
A family of five mergansers was reported to be active in the immediate vicinity of a recent planting of trout at Red Eagle Lake. A trip to the lake revealed the presence of the following: Water ouzels, one of which was seen with a small fish grasped firmly in its mandible; kingfishers, which were common; one osprey; mink tracks; and the merganser family.
Admittedly, mergansers consume large numbers of fish. Nevertheless, the killing of five mergansers could not be condoned except as a last resort. It would be better to try every other possible means first. Planting larger trout would help. Distributing them all along the shore instead of at one or two points would minimize the concentration of the fish and hence lessen the loss. Then there is still the possibility of keeping the mergansers off for a few days until the planted fish have established themselves in their new surroundings. This is a problem worthy of careful study to devise a better solution than destroying a valuable park bird.