Trout and coldwater conservation come in many forms and from all over the country. Jamie Vaughan is Trout Unlimited’s Rogue River Home Rivers Initiative Project Coordinator. Michigan’s Rogue River is a special river and fishery, but like so many others stressed by increasing pressure and development. Follow along to learn about Jamie and how she’s working to protect the Rogue long into the future.
Flylords: Hey Jamie, tell us a little about yourself and how you began with Trout Unlimited.
Jamie: I’m a Chicago native and while I had little access to nature growing up, I always had a care for the environment engrained in me. I knew early on that I wanted to work in the environmental field. After studying environmental science at the University of Michigan (Go blue!), I was lucky enough to get an internship with Trout Unlimited working on Michigan’s Rogue River. I knew almost nothing about fly fishing, but I quickly came to appreciate the mission focused on this almost mystical fish and the amazing community of anglers that revere it. I was warmly accepted into the TU family and still feel lucky every day to have such a rewarding career.
Flylords: You’ve been the Project Coordinator for TU’s Rogue River for seven years now. How has the river changed? What are its biggest threats?
Jamie: The Rogue River is special because it is situated so close to a large urban center – Grand Rapids. That means many people have easy access to the river and don’t have to travel too far to reach a robust trout fishery. Of course with the population center comes its own stressors on the river. The Rogue River watershed has seen a lot of development over the years and the loss of natural areas like forests and wetlands has meant higher temperatures and more sediment for the Rogue River. Climate change is compounding those threats and definitely makes trout populations in the Rogue River vulnerable.
Flylords: What is being done to mitigate those issues? Do you have any interesting projects in the works?
Jamie: In the Rogue River, we know that our groundwater-fed tributaries are bringing in really cold water to the river, making it suitable for trout especially in the hot summer months. Our efforts focus on those priority tributaries and work to restore natural areas where possible which helps the ecological function of the watershed and makes rivers cooler and healthier. Those projects could be small scale projects like encouraging homeowners to convert their lawn to native plants, or it could be large scale wetland restorations.
One project that’s got me really excited right now is our Rogue River Tree Army. We started doing large scale tree plantings along critical areas on the Rogue River and its tributaries to combat climate change and the loss of healthy riparian forests. In the last 3 years we planted 25,000 trees and will be planting another 15,000 this fall!
Flylords: Similarly, how is science informing these efforts?
Jamie: Science informs all that we do at TU. I work closely with Jake Lemon, our Monitoring and Community Science Manager, to use innovative methods to guide our restoration projects. Right now, Jake is honing a technique using drones to collect thermal maps of the watershed which show us exactly where coldwater seeps are coming into the river. This knowledge can help us strategically plan projects to protect those critical areas that trout depend on, and target restoration for areas lacking shade from trees.
Flylords: You were telling me about your fly fishing summer camp for girls—care to share any details/success stories?
Jamie: TU’s STREAM Girls program gets girls outside to explore their local stream. Not only do they get hands on experience in watershed science, but they also learn from local women anglers how to tie a fly, cast a fly rod, and go fly fishing. It’s an amazing way to build girls’ confidence in STEM fields and fly fishing – two areas where women are currently underrepresented. If there’s something I learned from these camps, it’s that girls have the makings to be inimitable anglers and conservationists. Their favorite part of camp is almost always tying colorful woolly buggers – their patience allows them to pick it up so quickly – and they are in awe when they see the awesome Flygirls of Michigan (who regularly volunteer for the camp) artfully casting a fly rod. It’s especially cool when we can get girls from cities like Grand Rapids and Detroit getting outside and comfortable in the outdoors. I know if I had these opportunities when I was young, I’d have discovered my love for wild rivers and coldwater conservation a lot sooner!