Sunday, March 12, 2017
When is Legal Citizenry Legal?
Leave us Alone
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
Morning came early.
This moonlit predawn reminded me of the times we would be on the upper mesa before sunup. One of those was a May, 1967 Saturday morning, the night after another Cliff High School graduation. Hugh had opted to celebrate his graduation fishing on Mogollon Creek. Rather than joining his less than a dozen fellow graduates, we sacked out in what our great grandmother called the “concrete house” at the old Rice headquarters. We lay in our sleeping bags talking when we heard the car wreck across the valley that claimed the life of one of those graduates. We wouldn’t know about the consequences of that until we returned late the next day.
In those days before Mogollon Creek was a pawn in an environmental agenda of deadly consequences, it was … a wondrous place.
Leave us Alone
By 5:45 we would have been long gone and taking the left turn at the Y where the road splits going to the 916 headquarters or on to the Rice Ranch. Our destination was the Inman Place on the creek off under the hill where the creek exits the narrow gorge under the falls. The ranch was then owned by Hugh’s grandparents, Blue and Minnie Rice, and it had been in Rice hands since our great grandfather arrived from the Texas Panhandle in 1888 with cattle branded PIT.
We crossed the creek and parked the pickup in front of the cabin. We would have said little allowing the sounds of the creek to hold any higher primacy.
From the cabin our first casts would have taken at the measuring weir. At that point, it would have been a hatchery trout that took the spinner. From there and upstream beyond, the relative frequency of stocker trout would have diminished. By the time we had fished through two favored holes and associated riffles and arrived at the juncture of Rain Creek, we would have had two or three trout in the creel. Most likely, they would have been rainbows.
I do believe we fished up Rain Creek that morning. It would have only been to the upper falls and that short stretch would have yielded at least two more fish. It was then back to Mogollon Creek and a stretch of relatively unproductive water for a quarter mile until the sound of the falls could be heard. I’ll always remember the first time I saw them. I was enthralled. I was with Frank and Clyde. One of us had caught a big brown trout and the red dots and the golden sides had glistened brilliantly in the water as he came to the shore.
The gorgeous water under the falls likely yielded another two or three trout for Hugh and I. One would likely have been a good trout of up to 14”. We would have then paused for just a moment before we began the tortuous climb over the falls. Again, the emphasis was the sounds and the sights of the creek. We were on private property throughout that whole stretch of creek bottom, and that privacy and protection left a creek bottom largely unchanged since the first time our great grandfather had witnessed the same sensory explosion a score of years short of a century before.
When is legal citizenry legal?
Above the falls, the intrigue only escalated.
The first holes were always productive with wild, mature trout. The falls formed a protective barrier that prevented most fishermen from entering the middle stretches of the creek. The only trail around that section from the Rain Creek side of the drainage offered no good access at all. The climb off into the creek from that direction was worse than accessing it from downstream. The upstream access was essentially untouched. If fisherman came from that direction they had more abundant and productive water than they could fish in a day without the rocky, marathon trek down the creek to fish here.
So, we were alone leapfrogging upstream taking two casts each before the lagging fisherman quietly eased himself into a position to make the next one.
Some time around noon we would have paused on a rock against the creek and opened a can of sardines to share. We would have used our pocket knives or our fingers to fish them out of the mustard sauce. We would have talked sparingly listening all the while to the water. We would have lain on our bellies to drink from the cold stream before we fished again.
By then, we would have been in perfect rhythm.
At 2:00 PM, we would have made the dreaded decision to turn back. On the back track, we would have paused only occasionally to cast. Our downstream success was always poorer than our upstream. The climb over the falls would have been the closing curtain. The lower stretch of water would have been untouched and we would have been silent until we got to the cabin where we lingered. I sought the lilac just south from the cabin. I loved the smell of that beautiful old bush.
The intimacy of Mogollon Creek that summer only intensified. Riding up the creek to the Kemp Place days later we tied the horses and mules and walked up the north side of the creek for a ways just looking at the water. I’ll always remember big brown trout fining and rolling in a series of holes that warm afternoon.
They are largely gone today.
If they exist, it is because they are tough and more suited to those waters than the endangered salmonids, the Gila Trout, which has been the target of infatuation by the federal agencies for the past 40 years. No, the browns and rainbows that reproduced in those waters for 30 years short of Lee Rice’s arrival on Mogollon Creek have been poisoned and suffocated relentlessly by federalistas since the Endangered Species Act spread its ugly wings. Rotenone is the material of choice for official killings while soot and ash from agency antipodal management induced wildfires have performed as tag team doubles in the same nasty business.
The ugly irony is the same agencies that planted the self sustaining European species that so successfully competed against the native fish in those waters are the hired guns trying now to kill them.
One thing is certain. These fish, that were legally introduced and have filled not just an economic role in the history of the creek but an aesthetic and cultural role of a primary fishery in a state that has less surface water per acre of footprint of any state in the union, have no rights. They have never been illegal aliens. The federal government itself is the agent of introduction when they promoted their efforts boldly and with much acclaim. They are the officials of the demise of the predecessor, the Gila Trout, not their propaganda of cows or man or any of the tedious politically correct nonsense of which we are pummeled.
It is time to recognize these introduced salmonids deserve to be legal citizens.
Why the Forest Service is now in the business of killing fish is beyond comprehension. It isn’t in their mission! It appears that destroying the lumber business in the state and making fire fighting the only growth industry in the great outdoors isn’t enough. No, they are arranging the stockpiling of rotenone so they can kill all the fish in a 23 mile stretch of Whitewater Creek in nearby Catron County. The action won’t be a single dump but multiple times over several years. The fact that some of the fish are endangered and a private citizen would go to jail for dumping that chemical in the creek under the Clean Water Act doesn’t matter. The byline is the action will be done to “establish a viable, self-sustaining recovery population of Gila trout that also would be managed by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish for recreational fishing in Whitewater Creek and its tributaries”.
The problem with that statement is when any reality of recreational fishing might be reinstated. In similar killings of the upper West Fork of the Gila and its tributaries, long stretches of the creek have no fishable populations even if fishing was allowed. All fishing there has been closed for over 20 years. The great little fishery at McKenna Creek where Hugh and I once saw a trout bigger than anyone would actually believe has been closed since 2009 when it was similarly killed.
No, these fisheries become off limits when such action is taken. We are left with the undeniable conclusion that is what the agencies actually intend when they start these horrendous recovery goals and criteria by killing endangered and sustainable fish populations without regard for the supposed purpose of … saving endangered species.
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “God help us.”