Cutthroat trout relocated to Big Horn MountainsSep 7, 2012 The Associated Press
BIGHORN NATIONAL FOREST -- The scene could have been in a period film -- a handful of men wrapping rope around a mule to secure metal tanks to the saddle.
The mule was neighing. Water nearby was rushing. There was no motorized traffic for miles.
The mule then marched up a steep canyon, transporting the precious cargo.
Inside the 10-gallon metal tanks were water, ice and Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
"We're doing our darnedest in places like this to give them real estate and isolate them," said Mark Smith, a fisheries biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. "That's key. They need to be in an area without any (invasive species of) trout. They tend to lose."
The Yellowstone cutthroat trout is a native species. The brook trout, the rainbow trout and "mutt" trout that are a product of the cutthroats breeding with the rainbows have crowded out cutthroats in northern Wyoming rivers and creeks over the past 100 years.
Smith has been at the helm of the six-year project to eliminate invasive species and restore the Yellowstone cutthroat to its historical reign of the waterways.
While Yellowstone cutthroat trout were the stars of their recent relocation in South Paintrock Creek in the Big Horn Mountains, the horses and mules that hauled them stole the show.
Humans -- from volunteers to employees of Wyoming Game and Fish and the U.S. Forest Service -- played the supporting cast in the trout relocation, from hiking down and up the canyon, to trudging through water, to handling electrical charging equipment that draws the trout to nets.
St. Paul, Minn., resident Megan Ryan was one of the volunteers.
"I drove out here with my husband and 4-year-old and 7-year-old in a 1982 Westfalia VW bus," she said. "I needed a break from them."
She was visiting her brother in Thermopolis, and he talked her into helping him take his mules to the Big Horns, sleeping in his horse trailer along the way.
Her brother, Kevin Ryan, has helped Wyoming Game and Fish with past projects.
"For the mules, they need work, they need a job," he said.
The mules and horses -- six total -- were necessary because of the terrain.
The area from which the fish were plucked was remote -- off U.S. Highway 16, across a 10-mile dirt Forest Service road, over a rocky two-track road, and down a trail on foot into the canyon.