A Redband Trout Stronghold

The historic Riddle Brothers Ranch resides yards from the Little Blitzen River.

Some where along the line a protected place comes in handy. As you travel through the remote eastern corner of where California meets Oregon, the Lava Beds defines the essence of such a place. Lava rock formations spread out over a highwind-sweep desert. Fissures, lava mounts, and small caves allow man and beast to disappear from the horizon in the blink of an eye. Captain Jack knew this. He and his Modoc warriors knew the Lava Beds to be a stronghold.

A native redband trout from the Little Blitzen River.

Not far from the Lava Beds, a new stronghold can be found. The Riddle Brothers Ranch in the Steens Mountain south of Frenchglen might have been the craddle of cattle ranching in the West. Now it stands (just barely) as an historical momument managed by the BLM. The Little Blitzen River flows quietly by the old ranch - just had it done when wranglers pushed cows across its banks over a hundred years ago. The redband co-existed (or held on as the case may be) and watched the Riddle Ranch from the comfort of a quiet pool. Generations of native fish witnessed the rise and eventual fall of a true cattle empire. Somehow they managed to outlast and hold-on against the odds.

A mule deer grazes along the tall grass inside the Steens Wilderness.

Times had certainly changed. On October 30, 2000 the Steens Mountain Cooperative Management and Protection Act was signed into law. The Steens Act designated 170,084 acres as wilderness. Within this wilderness, the act designates about 95,000 acres as a No Livestock Grazing Area. Great news for the native fishery and the stream ecosystems for sure, but also the first ever federally designated "No Livestock Grazing Area" in the history of U.S. wilderness areas. Will the redbands miss the big headed cows plotting along the stream? I doubt it.

The wild redband trout display a red band and parr marks on their body.

With free ranging cattle no longer part of the landscape, the Steens Act went on boldy to proclaim portions of the Donner and Blitzen as the Redband Trout Reserve (RTR). (Note: the Donner and Blitzen were placed into the National Wild and Scenic River System in 1988.) The stated goal of the RTR is to conserve, protect, and enhance the Donner und Blitzen River population of redband trout and the unique ecosystem of plants, fish and wildlife of a river system... I wonder if the redbands know how protected they are now? I doubt that too.