The Yakima River flows over 200 miles from it’s headwaters on the eastern slope of the Cascades at an elevation of over 2400 feet towards the mighty Columbia River, and eventually the Pacific Ocean. To get there, the river snakes through a cottonwood and evergreen lined riverbed, its cobble streambeds rich with spawning gravel, the rich farmlands near Ellensburg, and the deep basalt canyon walls of the lower canyon. Historically, the salmon, steelhead, trout, and other native fish in this river and its tributaries that call this clean, cold, “Blue Ribbon” fishery home draw anglers from all over the world – I know, I’ve visited and fished it’s mystifying waters for almost 30 years, and guided anglers here for the last six. It’s a place I hold dear in my heart and if you’ve cast a line here you probably feel the same.
The heart of Trout Unlimited are it’s volunteers – we, the members and volunteers, are the feet on the ground. The soul of our grassroots movement stirs in protecting, restoring, and reconnecting fish and their habitat. We do this in Chapters and Councils, in classrooms and streambeds, and in the minds of our children. We repair streambanks, restore habitat, and protect the headwaters where trickles of snowmelt turn into streams, where streams flow into rivers, and we care for the fish that live there through ethical practices – to ensure the same opportunities for future generations. Together, we are over 150,000 members strong with Chapters across the country.
Here’s where I need your help: The Yakima River is no different from most of our coldwater fisheries in the United States. Despite our care and conservation, the impacts to this fishery are a reason to act. The 4 H’s – Habitat, Hatcheries, Hydro, and Harvest are all in play on this system. This river is already designated by the WDFW (Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife) as a “Blue Ribbon” fishery which provides for special fishing regulations. The nearby Teanaway Community Forest, a recent acquisition of previously private-held land converted to a 50,000 acre “working forest” for outdoor recreation, hosts hikers, anglers, birdwatchers, and other users. The Teanaway, the only undamned river in the upper Yakima basin, once boasted wild populations of steelhead and other native fish. It’s a crown jewel in a treasure chest worth protecting.
I’ve already made a New Year’s resolution – to start a new TU Chapter focusing on the Upper Yakima River, and continuing to protect a place that I love. The next steps are to build an organization of volunteers like you, and start getting our hands and feet dirty on the ground with conservation projects. We need to identify and prioritize, build relationships, create goals, and engage you in the actual “do” part of the equation.