Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair(s)

David Rich Lewis


David Rich Lewis


Kyle Bulthuis


Daniel Davis


This thesis focuses on fisheries managers’ efforts to restore native cutthroats to northern Nevada’s Pyramid Lake for recreation, and the Paiutes’ battle to preserve them as a means of livelihood. Their efforts to reconstruct the fishery revealed the implausibility of environmental restoration, but more importantly underlined the motivations necessary to attempt it.

Chapter 2 describes how the Pyramid Lake Lahontan cutthroat— historically an important subsistence resource for Northern Paiutes— were initially exploited for profit in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and gradually destroyed as agricultural interests diverted the Truckee River’s water and industrial pollution contaminated the trout’s aquatic habitat. Fisheries managers in Nevada turned to artificial propagation to meet the demands of fishermen and replace the native fish industrialization destroyed. The Nevada Fish and Game Commission experimented with non-native introductions and like most of the West became proponents of rainbow trout and their recreational potential.

Chapter 3 narrates a history of the Nevada Fish and Game Commission’s project to restore trout to Pyramid Lake in the 1950s and 1960s after its native cutthroat became extinct in the early 1940s. For the Commission, restoring Pyramid Lake meant establishing trout and salmon populations— native or not— to feed the growing outdoor tourism industry. While the Commission made plans to restore natural spawning runs, these were unsuccessful, and the Commission relied on stocking the lake to maintain the fishery. However, these experiments failed and eventually cutthroats from other lakes in Nevada proved better occupants of the lake.

Chapter 4 describes the native cutthroat’s role in the water debate carried out in government agencies and in the courts in the 1970s and 1980s to decide whether or not water diverted from the Truckee for agriculture should be returned to the Paiutes to support their shrinking lake and dwindling fishery. Environmentalist groups like the Sierra Club joined the Paiutes in their effort to gain water that would allow for the native fishery’s restoration. Their vision clashed with that of agriculturists who feared losing water they depended on for their crops. However, after a lengthy struggle, the Paiutes won an important victory toward preserving their lake.



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