Robin Knox

Building Strategic Partnerships

Recorded: May 9, 2012

How can we preserve freshwater for our native fishes? Robin Knox tells us how strategic partnerships protect our watersheds and our fish.

After 40 years as a fishery biologist and fishing advocate within the much-admired Colorado Division of Wildlife, Robin Knox feels that it is his duty to speak for fish. Mr. Knox is currently the coordinator for the Western Regional Trout Initiative (WRTI), a group that along with its partners, includes 12 western states, five federal agencies and grassroots conservations groups. WRTI protects important fish watersheds by developing strategic goals, objectives and specific actions for conserving, protecting and restoring 15 western native trout species and sub-species. The approach involves increasing coordination between resource management agencies and local community groups; leveraging and focusing public and private resources on common priorities; raising awareness for the importance of western native trout and increasing accountability. Long an advocate of experienced and conservation-minded anglers, Mr. Knox has developed first-of-their-kind programs to introduce fishing to urban populations, women, children and television audiences.

Robin Knox: I can remember even as a child, there’s a certain thrill of knowing that there’s fish out there, you can’t see them but you know they’re there and you’re trying to trick them to bite your hook. There’s just like an innate challenge that you can outsmart those fish by getting them to bite. The thrill of catching a fish, there’s something in that that appeals to people and makes them feel good. You can’t have good fishing without good habitat and good water.

Robin Knox: The big picture look is extremely important because of the nature of water, you know water starts in one spot and goes to another spot. Once the water falls on the land it goes from high ground to low ground and you eventually makes its way all the way back to the ocean. As that water makes its way down, in a sense it has to run a gauntlet. Getting it to the ocean in a clean enough manner with as little sediment as possible and as few chemicals as possible or nutrients as possible is the goal. That gauntlet it has to run requires the involvement of water users, you know be it a farmer or a rancher, a miner, an energy developer, a suburban housewife, a city water treatment plant, you know it involves all of that to really take a look at how do we best preserve the quality of waters that come out at the end?

Robin Knox: I had the opportunity in 2006 to become the coordinator for the Western Native Trout Initiative. What we’re doing is trying to serve as a catalyst for increasing public and private partnerships for the conservation of 15 species of Western native trout and their habitats. I’m a firm believer in trying to collaborate on things so that everybody understands what everybody else’s needs are so that you can really work towards solutions that benefit all of the parties. We partner with the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and we are looking to increase our, what we call strategic partnerships with big land owners, with mining companies, with forest, timber companies to take this watershed approach where we can garner you know through cooperation, greater benefits for the fishes and the habitats across the west.

Robin Knox: North Central Colorado, just west of Fort Collins there’s several proposals for several reservoirs and the approach now is, okay, you’re wanting to build this reservoir. We’re going to lose a certain part of the fishery, its going to impact that fishery where its inundated but what’s really important for us is that we’re trying to reconnect 50 miles of native cutthroat trout water in the watershed that is going to be feeding your reservoir. And wouldn’t it be great if we can go up there and do the necessary work to have healthy riparian zones and healthy fish habitat? It gives you better quality water. It gives us connectivity and more stable populations of native cutthroat trout. So let’s see how we can work together on this.

Robin Knox: We’re speaking for the fish and we try and make sure their interests are always considered. It gives you a sense of purpose. You know if we don’t talk for the fish, who’s going to talk for them? You need this dedication and this sort of somewhat single mindedness. You know it sort of gets in your blood. My personal benefit is that I may have helped contribute to something positive in the long run, you know something that’s good for society or you know the resource environment as a whole. It’s been a lifelong pursuit of mine to do good things for the fishes and people ask me what I do, I say: “I try to save the fishes.”