For this Boots on The Ground series, we head to Truckee, California to meet with Jessica Strickland and get involved with a gravel restoration project. Jessica is Trout Unlimited’s California Inland Trout Program Director. Follow along to learn more about Jessica and some of the projects she’s working on.
Flylords: Jessica, welcome to Trout Week and thanks for sharing some time with us! First off, can you tell us a little bit about you and how you found Trout Unlimited?
Jessica: Thank you so much for having me! I grew up fishing, and went to college for wildlife and fisheries biology. So I’ve known of Trout Unlimited in my periphery as long as I can remember. However, how I really came to learn about what TU does is when I moved to California after grad school and worked for a non-profit that works closely with TU on dam removal campaigns. I saw all the great things they were doing and felt how passionately I aligned with TU’s mission.
Flylords: What do you do with TU?
Jessica: I am TU California’s Inland Trout Program Director. So, basically I focus on non-anadromous trout (i.e., no salmon or steelhead). We work to protect and restore native trout populations, in addition to improving popular sportfish waters. Our program also has a strong focus on engaging the community, anglers and youth in our work. I think the “We Make Fishing Better” mantra of TU runs deep in my program.
Flylords: Can you describe the fisheries in your region or home waters?
Jessica: I’d say our “home waters” are the Sierra Nevada/Eastern Sierra. It hosts several unique trout species with small native ranges, such as CA golden trout, Kern River rainbow trout, Lahontan cutthroat trout, etc. This draws folks to the “Heritage Trout Challenge” put on by CA Dept of Fish and Wildlife, where you work to catch 6 different species of inland trout all located in the Sierra Nevada. We also have blue ribbon waters that draw crowds for their large rainbows and brown trout, the Truckee River for example, where our office is based. Point being, we have a lot of diversity going on, in types of fish and types of fishing you can do here.
Flylords: Before we get into the gravel addition project and the Public Lands Day volunteer event, tell us about some of the other projects you’ve been working on this summer.
Jessica: This summer has been all about headwater habitat restoration – so improving small headwater streams and meadows that have been impacted in some way or another. Most of my summer has been focused on what’s probably been my favorite project of all time – Golden Trout Wilderness/CA golden trout meadow restoration. So, we are talking epic high alpine (9,000 ft elevation) waters within wilderness (so walk or pack-mule in only) that we are working to restore for CA golden trout.
To name a few other side gigs, we worked to restore some floodplain habitat of the East Walker River in Nevada, moved trout around a construction site on the Carson River, restored meadow/stream habitat on tributaries to the Kern River.
Flylords: Now let’s talk about the project on the Truckee River (we’re keeping the the exact tributary name shielded)—what went into this effort and what is the goal?
Jessica: This effort was in partnership with Tahoe National Forest for National Public Lands Day. So, the big picture here was getting people involved in caring for our nation’s public lands, a place where we can all go to hunt and fish. Something like 80% of our “home waters” range of the Sierra Nevada is public lands – mainly U.S. Forest Service, National Parks, etc. That’s a huge amount of opportunity in places to go recreate. So, TU, and myself personally, think it’s super important that people, especially anglers, understand that value and take ownership in caring for it.
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The nitty gritty of the event was adding spawning gravel to an important tributary to the Truckee River that has been deprived due to upstream dams. As most of us know, when rivers get dammed, not only does that change streamflow downstream, but they get deprived of important habitat components like large wood, nutrients, and spawning gravels.
Flylords: How does gravel introduction benefit trout populations? Are there other watersheds this might benefit?
Jessica: Sometimes in these dammed river systems, they don’t get the big pulses of streamflow that are needed to flush out fine sediments and add new gravels. There are many systems that could benefit from work like this considering most rivers in the U.S. are dammed in some form or another!
Flylords: Tell us a little bit about the community/partnerships that went into the project?
Jessica: This work was done through partnership with the U.S. Forest Service’s Tahoe National Forest. Then, we recruited from the community and from TU local chapters, and our materials and transportation was mostly donated, which is awesome support from our local businesses.
Flylords: Some of your family joined in on the restoration efforts. How does being a mother and raising kids influence your work and conservation efforts?
Jessica: I grew up camping and fishing, it shaped my childhood, sparked my career, and made me who I am today. Outside of teaching your kids to fish, I cannot encourage people enough to get their children involved in giving back to the outdoors. Our “home waters” give us all so much joy and so many memories…how can we not give back to something that so endlessly provides?
Flylords: Do you all have any upcoming projects or efforts in the works that you’d like to highlight?
Jessica: Reaching back to question 4 – The Golden Trout Project is something that I am beyond excited about. Restoring what’s already such an incredible place, Golden Trout Wilderness, for our state fish, CA golden trout, at a landscape-level is something that I think will make a real impact for the species and the fishery. An impact I will be able to see in my lifetime. When working as a fisheries biologist and/or conservationist, it takes years of planning to make things happen and sometimes years or decades to see a difference. I am confident that the fish and the anglers will feel the result of this work, and that’s something I am really proud of.
Photos by Jason Shields.