Boots on the ground: Jessica Strickland

For this Boots on The Ground series, we head to Truckee, California to meet Jessica Strickland and get involved in a gravel restoration project. Jessica is from Trout Unlimited Director of the California Inland Trout Program. Follow along to learn more about Jessica and some of the projects she’s working on.

Flylords: Jessica, welcome to Trout Week and thanks for spending some time with us! First off, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you found Trout Unlimited?

Jessica: Thanks so much for having me! I grew up fishing and went to college for wildlife and fisheries biology. So I’ve known about Trout Unlimited in my suburb for as long as I can remember. However, the way I really learned about what TU does is when I moved to California after graduation and worked for a non-profit that works closely with TU on dam removal campaigns. I saw all the great things they were doing and felt how passionately I aligned with TU’s mission.

Flylords: What do you do with TU?

Jessica: I am the Director of TU California’s Inland Trout Program. So basically I focus on non-anadromous trout (ie, no salmon or steelhead). We work to protect and restore native trout populations in addition to improving popular sport fish waters. Our program also has a strong focus on engaging the community, fishermen and youth in our work. I think TU’s mantra “We make fishing better” runs deep in my program.

Jessica reaping the rewards of conservation

Flylords: Can you describe the fishing in your region or home waters?

Jessica: I would say our “home waters” are the Sierra Nevada/Eastern Sierra. It hosts several unique species of small native string trout, such as CA golden trout, Kern River rainbow trout, Lahontan trout, and more. It draws people toTrout Heritage Challenge” hosted by the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife, where you work to catch 6 different species of inland trout, all located in the Sierra Nevada. We also have blue ribbon waters that draw crowds for their large rainbows and brown trout, for example the Truckee River, where our office is located. Because, we have a lot of diversity going on, in the types of fish and the types of fishing you can do here.

Flylords: Before we get into the gravel addition project and the Public Lands Day volunteer event, tell us about some of the other projects you’ve been working on this summer.

Jessica: This summer has been all about spring habitat restoration – improving small streams and water meadows that have been impacted in one way or another. Most of my summer has been focused on what has probably been my favorite project of all time – Restoring the Golden Trout Meadow of the Golden Trout Wilderness/CA. So we are talking about the epic high alpine (9000 ft elevation) waters within the wilderness (so hike or just pack in) that we are working to restore for CA golden trout.

To name a few other side gigs, we worked to restore some East Walker River floodplain habitat in Nevada, relocated trout around a construction site on the Carson River, restored meadow/stream habitat on tributaries of the Kern River.

Photo of the group of TU volunteers

Flylords: Now let’s talk about the project on the Truckee River (we’re withholding the exact name of the tributary) – what went into this effort and what’s the goal?

Jessica: This effort was in partnership with the Tahoe National Forest for National Public Lands Day. So the big picture here was getting people involved in taking care of our nation’s public lands, a place where we can all go to hunt and fish. Something like 80% of our “homewater” range in the Sierra Nevada is public land – mostly US Forest Service, National Parks, etc. This is a great opportunity in places to recreate. So TU, and I personally, think it’s very important that people, especially fishermen, understand this value and take responsibility to look after it.

The highlight of the event was the addition of spawning gravel to an important tributary of the Truckee River that has been deprived due to upstream dams. As most of us know, when rivers are dammed, not only does it alter the flow downstream, but they are deprived of important habitat components such as large timber, nutrients and spawning gravel.

Jessica spreading gravel

Flylords: How does adding gravel benefit trout populations? Are there other watersheds that could benefit?

Jessica: Sometimes in these dammed river systems, they don’t get the big pulses of stream flow that are needed to wash away fine sediments and add new gravel. There are many systems that could benefit from a job like this, considering most rivers in the US are dammed in one form or another!

Flylords: Tell us a little about the community/partnerships that went into the project?

Jessica: This work was done through a partnership with the US Forest Service’s Tahoe National Forest. We then recruited from the community and local TU chapters, and our materials and transport were largely donated, which is an incredible support from our local businesses.

Jessica Strickland and the girls

Flylords: Some of your family joined the restoration effort. How does being a mother and raising children affect your work and conservation efforts?

Jessica: I grew up camping and fishing, it shaped my childhood, sparked my career and made me who I am today. Besides teaching your kids to fish, I can’t encourage people enough to get their kids involved in getting back into nature. Our “home waters” give us all so much joy and so many memories…how can we not give back to something that offers so much?

Flylords: Do you all have any upcoming projects or endeavors in the works that you’d like to highlight?

Jessica: Going back to question 4 – The Golden Trout Project is something I’m very excited about. Restoring what is already such an incredible place, the Golden Trout Wilderness, for our state fish, the CA golden trout, to a landscape level is something that I think will have a real impact on the species and the fishery. An impact I will be able to see in my lifetime. When you work as a fisheries biologist and/or conservationist, it takes years of planning to make things happen and sometimes years or decades to see a change. I am convinced that the fish and fishermen will feel the result of this work and that is something I am really proud of.

Photos by Jason Shields.

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