One of the great voices in trout and salmonid conservation died Friday, September 13, in Fort Collins, CO. Dr. Robert “Bob” Behnke was 83.
Author, college professor and outspoken advocate of trout conservation worldwide, Behnke was perhaps best known for identifying and helping to protect native cutthroat trout and Greenback and Lahontan cutthroat subspecies.
Prior to Behnke’s research, Greenback and the Pyramid Lake strain of Lahontan cutthroats were considered extinct. Behnke’s work as a graduate student and later as a scientist involved developing the characteristic profiles of these and other “lost” species from museum specimens so that the fish could be identified if encountered in the wild. As a result, many native populations were identified, restored and protected. A proposal has been made to name the Fine Spotted Snake River Cutthroat trout after Behnke in honor of his work.
You can hear more about Behnke’s work in his own words in this interview by Zach Matthews.
Behnke went to the University of California Berkeley where he received his Masters and PhD in Ichthyology before moving to Colorado in 1966 for a job with the US Fish and Wildlife department. He became a professor with Colorado State University in the 1970s. He was the author of Native Trout of Western North America, Trout and Salmon in North America, and About Trout, as well as a columnist for Trout Unlimited’s TROUT magazine. In the forward to About Trout, conservation writer Ted Williams wrote: “Shining from every page of this book is Behnke’s love for these beautiful and complex works of evolution, his commitment to their conservation and recovery, and his rage at those who would mix, pollute, and waste their genes. He shows how our ceaseless game of musical chairs with species and subspecies has destroyed much of the grand diversity earth was blessed with, homogenizing it into muddy sameness.”
Before his death, Behnke requested that in lieu of flowers contributions in his memory be made to the Robert J. Behnke Rocky Mountain Flycaster Research Fellowship to help fund the work of future conservation scientists (Department of Fish and Wildlife and Conservation Biology at CSU Foundation , PO Box 1870, Fort Collins, CO 80522). The Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at Colorado State University is also seeking funds for an Endowed Chair in Coldwater Conservation named in honor of Dr. Behnke.