Trout Unlimited Priority Waters: Steelhead Country

In Steelhead Country by Greg Fitz

A Trout Unlimited initiative tackling rising threats to key steelhead, trout, & salmon watersheds

Wild and native steelhead, trout and salmon, as coldwater fish in a warming world, are facing enormous threats. More than 1.5 million miles of America’s trout and salmon waters are degraded, and populations of these iconic fish run a real risk of disappearing. Scientists say that of the United States’ 28 native trout species and subspecies, three are already extinct, while half of the rest occupy less than 25 percent of their historic range. Twenty-eight populations of Pacific salmon and steelhead are listed as threatened or endangered. 

This is the context behind a new initiative from Trout Unlimited to protect and restore trout and salmon fisheries and the habitats upon which they depend in a national network of more than 200 Priority Waters across the country. 

Trout Unlimited field teams, volunteers, and partners analyzed trout and salmon watersheds in 30 key states to assess where populations most need protection and restoration. To lay a scientific foundation, they examined existing wild and native fisheries data, and then, borrowing from the financial planner’s maxim that diversified investment portfolios reduce risk, they evaluated: 

  • the need to preserve strongholds with large, intact habitats and healthy trout or salmon populations; 
  • the ability of watersheds to harbor thriving fisheries as the climate changes; 
  • the importance of genetic diversity, life history diversity, and ecological diversity. 

Factoring in climate resiliency models, the location of protected lands, and shared priorities of partner organizations, state and federal natural resource agencies, and communities that depend on coldwater rivers and streams, Trout Unlimited assembled a list of 200+ wild and native trout and salmon watersheds where the needs—and opportunities—are most pressing. The list of waters span from Alaska to Georgia and California to Maine. 

Wild Steelhead Priority Waters 

For wild steelhead anglers and advocates, our work bears down on the rivers, streams and watersheds connected to the Pacific Ocean. In the United States, these span high desert rivers hundreds of miles inland and short coastal streams. These waters flow across California, Oregon, Idaho, Washington and Alaska and include iconic rivers like the Skagit, the Clearwater, the Umpqua, the Hoh, the Eel, and the Klamath, and others.

Top: North Fork Nooksack River. Image: Bridget Moran
Above: A winter steelhead from coastal Washington.

Wild Steelheaders United is an effort to mobilize anglers and advocates to push for wild steelhead conservation and protection and science-based steelhead fisheries focused on rebuilding struggling populations of these incredible migratory fish. The Priority Waters initiative aligns our work with our peers removing dams and culverts, restoring instream habitat, and protecting and replenishing cold water resources. It ties our effort to recover wild steelhead with the work to protect and restore salmon, trout, lamprey and other coldwater species across the Pacific Region. 

“Working with volunteer leaders, communities, natural resource agencies and other partners, Trout Unlimited is meeting the challenges facing trout and salmon in an era of climate change,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “We are not only improving rivers and streams, but also creating healthy fisheries, promoting clean water, building climate resiliency, creating high-paying family-wage jobs, and leveraging public and private dollars to make an impact in our local communities.”

Learn more about our Priority Waters.