January 20, 2020 |Phoenix, AZ|01:29:30

Persons, Bill Oral History Interview


This is Paul Hirt and Jen Sweeney, of Arizona State University and Four East Historical Research, interviewing Bill Persons, who is in Phoenix. Today is August 4, 2020, and we are interviewing via Zencastr, which is an online recording protocol. Jen is in Tempe, Arizona, I’m in Portal, Arizona, and again, Bill is in Phoenix, Arizona. Bill, thank you so much for joining us today.

00:00:02 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:00:30

Thank you for setting it up. And we finally made it work.

Yes. All right. Well, let’s start by you telling us who you currently work for, and the positions that you’ve held over time in the Adaptive Management Program, and the years that you’ve been involved in the program.

00:00:33 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:00:50

Sure. I’m retired. I started working in Grand Canyon in 1984 for Arizona Game and Fish Department [AZGFD]. I was a fishery research biologist working for, on contract for [U.S.] Bureau of Reclamation [USBR] under what is commonly called Glen Canyon Environmental Studies [GCES] Phase One. I was a field biologist for about a year and a half, and then left that job to take a permanent position with Arizona Game and Fish Department as a fishery research biologist in 1985. I stayed involved with the Grand Canyon work (pause) sort of on and off until, I think, 1991, when, um, I moved from the fisheries management branch to the research branch and took over Arizona Game and Fish Department’s field activities and contract obligations under–it wasn’t Glen Canyon Environmental Studies Phase One, it was pretty much Phase Two by then. The Environmental Impact Statement [EIS] and Record of Decision [ROD] of 1996 was being developed at the time. I was advised to kind of stay out of that, and Larry Riley with Arizona Game and Fish Department did most of the work for the Department on that. I continued to run the research end of things, which I did (pause) until I retired from Game and Fish in 2009. I became involved with the Adaptive Management Program Technical Work Group [TWG]. If I call it “the TWG” [pronounced “twig”] that’s what I mean. If I lapse into too much jargon, let me know.


00:03:03 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:03:04

It’s (pause) it’s a big part of this program, it seems like (laughter). So I got involved with the TWG when I think it was still called a Transition Work Group. The Record of Decision had been signed, and Reclamation and Interior, Department of Interior, were trying to get an Adaptive Management Program started. They had stakeholders selected. Arizona Game and Fish Department was one of those stakeholder groups. Um, and I was their Technical Work Group representative. We had an Adaptive Management Work Group [AMWG], an AMWG representative, who was higher up the food chain with Game and Fish. I was, I pretty much kept on my research hat, as a member of the TWG, for as long as I could. It was sometimes difficult to keep the research and the policy separate. The nature of the program and the nature of the TWG, I think, kept trying to push the group towards more of a policy arena, perhaps because many of the members came from more of a policy background. I worked for Game and Fish, I think I said, until 2009, when I was offered a job by GCMRC, Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, in Flagstaff. I had just completed my twenty-five years with Game and Fish and was eligible for retirement. So, I jumped at that opportunity, went up to Flagstaff and got back involved more with research. I was not a TWG representative, not an AMWG representative. I didn’t have to speak for, for an agency. I did my best to represent GCMRC. And come 2015, I think, the (pause) it wasn’t as much fun as it used to be, I don’t know how else to put it. It was, it seemed like I was caught up a lot in my own research projects, um, and trying to help other biologists with theirs as much as I could, and decided I was old enough, I had spent enough time on the river. It was time to let somebody younger take over. So I sort of escaped the program for a couple of years. And one of my old bosses, John Hamill, approached me about helping them represent Trout Unlimited, on the Technical Work Group, as their alternate. I think I hit my head that morning and agreed to help. And, um, just stayed involved. I mean, I’m still interested in the canyon. I’m still interested in adaptive management. And it’s a good group of people, and I’d like to think, maybe we’re making some progress. So that’s, you know, my ten-minute (pause) TWG, AMWG bio.

Great. That’s a diversity of, um, ways of participating in the program over time. I’m wondering if, um, you feel like your goals and your approach to, um, the task was different when you were a representative of a stakeholder, like Arizona Game and Fish Department, versus when you were, um, simply a researcher, um, say when you were working with GCMRC. Did that change how you approached your work in the program?

00:06:55 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:07:28

Um, yeah, they were, they were two completely different jobs. With the state, one of my, a big part of my job was getting funding, getting contracts from, originally, Bureau of Reclamation, and then USGS [U.S. Geological Survey], GCMRC, to conduct research that they wanted done, and that the Department [AZ Game and Fish] wanted done. Getting it staffed, getting the research proposals put together, chasing the money (pause) and working on research and monitoring programs that we tried to tailor to meet GCMRC’s needs. And when I shifted to, um, I–I know you’ve got a question later on about some of the management objectives of Game and Fish [P.H.: mm-hmm], and so–and I can go into that a little bit later, maybe. With, uh, USGS, GCMRC, I was on the other side of the table, um, helping run those contracts that I used to bid on, and helping–and I had the opportunity to do some of my own research. So, it was kind of a flip-flop, um, in my duties. I’m not sure how well I met GCMRC’s needs. They have some pretty powerful scientists, well-published. And, and I wasn’t one of those guys.

Well, one of the interesting aspects of the program is that it’s, you know, a grand experiment in trying to come up with management decisions, policies too, that are based on the best available science, and to keep doing science and having that iterate back to management decisions and policy, that’s the whole point of adaptive management. And you seem to have been, at different times, on both sides of that effort to integrate science with management and policymaking. How do you feel that relationship, um, is it an uneasy relationship, or is it working well? Has it changed over time? Talk a little bit about that, if you would.

00:09:24 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:10:12

You know, I do think it’s changed over time. I used to kind of kid in, in the early days, when I was a TWG member, it seemed like we would, um, you know, we were all, at the time, kind of taught the whole adaptive management principles by Dr. Walters, Carl Walters. Where, yeah, the idea is, um, we plan, we collect information, we give advice to the managers, and if we can, we’ll–we try and do some active adaptive management, or in other words, we’ll–the scientists, ideally we would come up with an experiment we would like to see done. In the case of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program [GCDAMP] it, it focused primarily on dam operations. So we would come up with a, an experiment, or we would try and come up with an experiment that would answer some of our pressing questions about how best to manage the river. Uh, those experiments would be done, we would learn, and, like you said, we would continue to modify operations. That was the theory. I, I think it worked fairly well, on and off, in the early years. I’ll go back to the 1996 High Flow Experiment [HFE]. Um, it was, it was designed primarily as a sediment experiment, and we biologists did the best we could with it. And then, further experiments were sometimes (pause) cast upon the scientists by the managers. In other words, the managers would say, “Here’s a flow. Go study it.” Instead of getting input from the scientists to help design the flow. Um, and learning from that. It, it’s just, I think it was the nature of the program, having to do environmental compliance through NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act]. Sometimes experiments were dictated by the policy makers. In an ideal adaptive management world, I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work, but it’s often how it does work. I mean, that’s just, being on the management side of things, I know that that’s how it works. Managers sometimes have to make a decision with, sometimes very little information. They do, and then the scientists learn as best they can, inform the managers. So it’s not a–it’s not a perfect process, it’s not always smooth. But it’s (pause) overall, I think it’s, it’s certainly a good effort. It’s largely kept the program out of court, which is where I think it probably would have wound up had there not been the 1996 Record of Decision creation of the Adaptive Management Program. Um, it’s, um, I don’t know if that answers the question, or if I missed the point of it completely.

No, you–you responded to it, I thought, in a very cogent way. Thanks.

00:13:37 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:13:44

I think at one time, I even drew a, you know, you–in the adaptive management world, you can sort of draw a circle of arrows: plan, experiment, learn, change, change your management action, learn, experiment, change your management action. And you just do iterative loops, iterative loops. I think I jokingly said once, maybe half-seriously, that we seemed to be, for a while there, in a plan, plan, plan, plan mode (laughter), where we, we were never able to pull the trigger. Um, we would just develop a new plan, or develop a new environmental compliance document, or start down the road of developing an environmental compliance document or a long-term management plan, work real hard on it for about three years, and then it would be called back. Those were kind of the frustrating years for me.

Yeah. Well that is not an unusual situation. That happens all the time in federal land management planning. I’m wondering what you would attribute the cause of that delay in being able to pull the trigger, so to speak, in the early years.

00:14:50 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:15:07

You know, I think it’s, um, as you said, it’s common with federal agencies. I recall Dr. Walters talking to us once about the reason it’s hard for federal managers to make a decision. Sometimes they are big decisions that can be costly. And if, in order to, to make a decision, the managers have to take a bit of a risk. That risk being, if the, if the decision is wrong or doesn’t work, it can be a career-ending decision. So I think there was some of that going on. But again, that’s common, so we have to expect that to some extent. Um (pause) [P.H.: Well–] beyond that it may have just been personalities.

Sure. I’m curious if you think, I mean, it may also be that, um, at the beginning of a program, there’s so much you need to know. We’ve had a number of interviewees tell us that, at the very beginning, they were flying blind, and there was so much science that had to be done in order to make an informed decision. Um, do you, would you say that over the years that you’ve been involved, that the ability to turn research into policy has gotten better over time, because we have developed such an impressive knowledge base over the last twenty-some years? (Pause.) Or not?

00:16:06 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:16:49

You know, that’s a real good question. The (pause) the knowledge base has increased tremendously, both on the physical side of things and on the biological side of things. Adaptive Management Work Group members do tend to turn over, um, fairly frequently. There, there are some that have been there for the duration. They know the history, they know the science, they do their homework, and they’re engaged. Other members (pause) you know, if they’ve only been there a year, or two, it’s so hard to get up to speed on the science. It can be a major time commitment, on their part, to try and stay up with things and to try and get engaged, that is difficult. I think I like the way the program has gone in the last few years to try and help bring people up to speed a little quicker. The, uh, Wiki pages that have been developed, at least in my mind, are a big help. But it, it does require the stakeholders to take the time and get engaged. For some stakeholders that’s easy, for others, not so easy. There may be some stakeholders that are, dare I say happy with the status quo? If their, if their ox isn’t getting gored, there’s no need for them to jump in and try and change anything. So that, that’s some of the inertia. (Pause.) But at the same time, sometimes going slow is a good thing. [P.H.: Yeah.] It helps us make good decisions.

Well, I’m going to change gears just a little bit. And I don’t know if you’ll be able to answer this or not, but I’m going to pose it. Um, one of the criteria we have for choosing who to interview is that we want to make sure that we get the voices of all of the different stakeholders that have been involved in the program. And states (pause) the, you know, the states in the Colorado River Basin, are important stakeholders. But states have multiple interests. There’s the, you know, Game and Fish interests that you, um, helped to represent for quite a while. There’s the water interests, there’s the hydropower interests. Did you have any sense, when you were serving as a representative of Arizona Game and Fish, that there was an effort on the part of the states, or even within Arizona, to try to coordinate anything that you might call a state interest? Or were you separate and independent, in a sense, from the people who were focused on hydropower issues and water issues?

00:18:53 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:20:02

Good question. That, yeah, there is, I’m sure you’ve heard, there was, there’s kind of a, a core group comprised of the state (pause) state interests as related to water. We call them the water buffaloes (laughter). They need to make sure they get their fair share of Colorado River water. It’s a big issue, and it’s not going away. Hydropower tends to align with those groups, most of the time. The state wildlife agency and some of the NGOs [non-governmental organizations], I think, were more focused on natural resources than the water and power interests, so, [U.S] Fish and Wildlife Service, [National] Park Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, and the, um, other environmental groups, the river runners. I think we–for a while, we tried to all get together, sort of, as sort of a natural resources group, before, oh, big TWG decisions or AMWG meetings, and see if we could all get on the same page. And it was pretty hard. We had similar, a similar vision for what the canyon should provide, but not always the same. So we splintered a bit, but we did make that effort. I shouldn’t forget Trout Unlimited since I do represent them now. Because the trout anglers were pretty (pause) pretty heavily involved from the early days of trying to protect that rainbow trout fishery. (Pause.) It’s so close to Glen Canyon Dam that the fishery can be affected, largely, by dam operations. We also, I think, had similar interests, from time to time, with hydropower. In other words, if we could (pause) if the state agency, I’ll call it, the department, could benefit fish and wildlife resources and at the same time benefit hydropower resources, I guess we saw that as a win-win. The water interests were a little different. As long as they get, got their annual share of water, and weren’t–and didn’t feel like that share of water was threatened in any way, or a precedent wasn’t being set where it might be threatened in the future, they would, they would kind of go along. In other words they didn’t, they didn’t always have a dog in the fight. Um (pause) so, so we (pause) I guess, speaking for myself and as, I think, for the department, we tried to make bridges between our agency and the other groups. Saw it as a, more of a collaborative process than, maybe, others did. Whether we were successful or not is another question. The department was (pause) kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. I used to tell people the department was a little schizophrenic. We were responsible for protecting a recreational fishery in that first fifteen miles of the tailwater, which was a blue-ribbon, nationally recognized rainbow trout fishery. And we’re also responsible for protecting native fish downstream, um, including an endangered species of humpback chub. Sometimes those two resources could conflict with each other.

How so?

00:24:17 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:24:19

Uh (pause) they compete with each other for resources. If they’re ov–if they overlap in the same part of the river, they’ll com–they can compete for food, space. They can prey on each other. Generally, people think that rainbow trout prey on humpback chub. Big humpback chub will also eat small trout, but that’s kind of not (pause) not seen as a big problem. Brown trout are another issue. It was introduced as a sport fish back in, I think, 1923, by the Park Service. At the time, that was important to them. And they have proven to be a pretty big predator on native fish, including humpback chub. There wa–because there really wasn’t a recreational fishery for brown trout other than at Bright Angel Creek, I think the department was willing to, um, write, write that species off as a sport fish. We, we didn’t want to see them established at Lees Ferry. Because that could mean the end of a recreational fishery, if they move from Lees Ferry down to the Little Colorado River and prey on humpback chub. That’s kind of always been an issue, and it’s becoming a bigger issue now that brown trout are becoming more abundant. They used to be real rare in the Glen Canyon Dam tailwater, perhaps because of cold water, maybe for other reasons that we don’t understand. If you’ve talked to anybody from Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, you know what’s going on there now to try and come up with a program to reduce the number of brown trout in that upper fifteen miles. And the department is trying to help with that. Trout Unlimited is trying to help with that. It’s just, hopefully it’ll get started this fall, but with the pandemic (pause) things are, things are being delayed. It’s, it’s understandable. [P.H.: Yeah.] Um, I forgot what the question was (laughter). I’m rambling!

You answered it very well! I have a follow-up on that. Um, you know, certain resources tend to get a lot of attention, and we’ve heard from a lot of our interviewees about humpback chub, rainbow trout, brown trout, but, you know, Game and Fish, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have a much broader mandate than specific species, especially those that are popular for, um, sport, and those that are endangered and have to be protected by law. Can you talk a little bit about, um, whether there were any other wildlife concerns and issues that you worked on or advocated for besides those iconic three?

00:26:54 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:27:39

Yeah, there were, and it was, I’ll say mostly during GCES Phase One, with some overlap into GCES Phase Two. There was more–research was a little bit more broadly distributed, looking at other species of interest, other taxa (pause) the riparian habitat and associated birds were of interest in the eighties, early nineties. Um (pause) the, the uh, we really don’t have many endangered birds in the canyon. We went through a period in the, uh, late eighties, early nineties when bald eagle, uh, became winter residents at Nankoweap Creek. I don’t know if you’ve heard about that story.


00:28:38 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:28:39

They were feeding on, of all things, rainbow trout (laughter) that were running up Nankoweap Creek to spawn. And also during that time period, it was pre-Record of Decision flows, so flows tended to fluctuate quite a bit, especially in the winter. So rainbow trout would get caught in these stranding pools, right at the mouth of Nankoweap Creek, and the bald eagles would fly in, find this wonderful rainbow trout buffet, and hang around for a good part of the winter. I can’t remember if there was a dozen, two dozen. They were there for quite a few years when the rainbow trout kind of disappeared from Nankoweap Creek, the bald eagles left too. But there was some interest in those. We’ve, we also had some peregrine falcon researchers. For a few years in the canyon we had a herpetologist, trying to help catalog what was down there, and learn a little bit more about some of the life histories of the, of the herp–of the snakes and lizards down there and how they maybe interacted with campers. If you haven’t talked to Larry Stevens, I think he can give you a pretty good history of some of that.

Larry was our first interview.

00:30:01 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:30:03

Ah, good. (Laughter.) He’s the old man of the river.

He certainly is.

00:30:06 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:30:09

I’m trying to think of what else. Um (pause) oh gosh, I know some, there were some university projects out of U of A [University of Arizona] and ASU [Arizona State University] looking at snakes, both in the mainstem Colorado River and in the Little Colorado River. Um (pause) you know the condor story, I’m sure.

Oh, yes.

00:30:30 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:30:31

Um (pause; brief static sound) those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head, but, yeah, there was an interest, but, uh, there was little funding, and unless they were a primary resource of concern as identified by the AMWG and the Secretary of the Interior, they sort of disappeared off our radar screen. No, no funding.

Well, that goes to explain some of the reason why, um, in most of the documents and all of our interviews, there’s just a limited number of resources of concern that people talk about, that people say have been the focus of the program. And I’ve always wondered a little bit why that is, and you’ve just given us a bit of an explanation. If there’s no legal, um, requirement to focus on it, such as with the Endangered Species Act or the National Historic Preservation Act. And if there’s no money, then it doesn’t get the research and it doesn’t get the attention in the management situation, is that–?

00:30:59 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:31:38

I think that’s pretty fair. Um–

Is that frustrating to you? (Pause.) Or do you think that’s appropriate, in a program like this?

00:31:41 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:31:50

(Pause.) It’s a little frustrating and it, the whole program (pause) tends to be a little inbred. And it’s hard to bring in new ideas unless they come from a stakeholder that sits on the Adaptive Management Work Group. There are some within the group that think the program has answered all the questions and it should be scaled way back and, um, you know (pause) fit in a bathtub (laughter). And, and be a, just be a small program. It is (pause) it’s a, it’s an expensive program. I don’t know where else you’re going to find money dedicated for research to the tune of ten to eleven million dollars a year. It’s a phenomenal opportunity, but, um (pause) the way it’s set up, you–they kind of have to keep the pool of players fairly small.

Jennifer Sweeney 00:33:04

How do you think, Bill–I mean, can you think of any ways that would work to bring new ideas, fresh ideas in from, you know, any groups outside the group of stakeholders? Staying within the bounds of the, of what the program calls for?

Bill Persons 00:33:22

Yeah, and it’s a, it’s a tough one for GCMRC. Um (pause) and for–I think Reclamation is doing it, to some extent, and the Park Service is doing it to some extent, is putting some of these research projects out on the street, putting out requests for proposals to a wider audience. It’s a, it’s an administrative chore. And if you’re trying to maintain a base of scientists like GCMRC is, once they hire permanent employees, um, it’s, it’s (pause) they have an obligation to keep those people on board. Or they, at least they–I don’t know how real that obligation is, but I think it’s just sort of a fact of life for the federal government. And with anybody trying to manage a good program, is you, you take care of your people. So that means most of the money is tied up with full-time employees for USGS, and then for the existing players–and I’ll talk about the, um, the biological side of things, where it’s Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department. Uhh, to some extent, the Hualapai Tribe. And, and um, it’s difficult to bring outside players into that group, because that group ties up the budget. Now, the Park Service has been able to bring in a couple of new players and some new students that have made big contributions, so.

Such as, who?

00:35:12 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:35:14

BIO-WEST, working on a razorback [sucker] project. A couple of graduate students with Utah State University working on Bright Angel Creek. I don’t know if you had the opportunity to talk to Brian Healy. You probably talked to Jan.

No, neither one.

00:35:30 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:35:32

Neither one? Or– you talked to [unintelligible].

Oh, Jan Balsom we talked to.

00:35:33 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:35:34

Jan Balsom, yeah.

Yes, yeah. Great interview with Jan.

00:35:35 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:35:37

She, yeah. She’s, she’s been with the program since the get-go, and knows the players, knows the program. Does a good job representing the park.


00:35:50 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:35:52

Her mission as a Park Service employee is different than, I’ll say at least, the Trout Unlimited stakeholder group. And that just has to do with the mission of her agency. (Pause.) I think Fish and Wildlife Service, to some extent, has brought in some students. I know at Game and Fish I tried to bring in grad students where we could, to bring in some new ideas, but again, it was, it was difficult. Just because of the funding and trying to keep existing people on board. [P.H.: Mm-hmm.] So, a little, a little shake-up every now and then isn’t always a bad thing. (Pause.) I hope that word doesn’t get out to the people currently working on the program (laughter). It may, but that’s okay.

That’s good advice. And, most people recognize that. We’ve heard similar things from quite a number of folks. Um, let me ask you to be just a little bit more specific about, um, your goals, over the years, as a representative of Game and Fish and, back in, you know, years back, as well as, now you’re representing Trout Unlimited. Tell us a little more specifically what, you know, the stakes are for you. What you’re, um, trying to protect or trying to promote or trying to advance.

00:36:44 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:37:29

If I said “the aquatic ecosystem,” that would, kind of, cover most of my interests. I’m interested in everything in the canyon, but my focus has been on fishery resources. My training is as a fishery biologist, working on big rivers, got me the opportunity to come down and work on the Colorado. So it’s, um, it’s enjoyable, to me, to work on a big river that’s changing, that’s dynamic, um (pause) whose ecosystem is changing over time. My interests have been with that recreational trout fishery, because I think it’s a valuable resource, um, socially and economically, and to the state of Arizona. But there is a community of people that, I’ll say, make a living off of that resource. Whose lives are centered around that recreational fishery. Not all of them work on it, not all of them make a living on it, but there’s a, a group of constituents that places a high value on that very unique fishery. I don’t know if you’ve had the opportunity to get up there and see it, but if you, if you haven’t, it would be nice if you could get up and at least enjoy the scenery. The other part of the equation for me was, um, humpback chub. I took a lot of interest in humpback chub, particularly in the Little Colorado River, which is their, as I’m sure you’ve heard from many others, is sort of their, the center of the universe for humpback chub. So, I’ve had an interest in, in those two resources. The humpback chub seem like they’re doing well. I jokingly tell the Fish and Wildlife Service it’s because of our good management. But we don’t really understand why they’ve had such a, such a big population recovery. It could have to do with management of the dam, it could have to do with temperature. It could have to do with things like removal of brown trout at Bright Angel Creek. It could have to do with translocation efforts. It’s, it’s complicated, we don’t understand it. But it’s been, I’ll say, enjoyable to at least see that population recover, to some extent, not blink out, which we were worried about when we first started. As well as healthy, big river native fish, like flannelmouth sucker and blue, bluehead sucker. There are still threats to those communities, but they seem like they’re doing pretty well for now, knock on wood. (Pause.) I was also just interested in adaptive management as a management tool. Sort of the learn by doing, um, changing our management, where we could, based on good science. (Pause.) I’m not sure that I have a whole lot to add to that. Um–

That’s fine. I’ve got a follow-up question for you on rainbow trout. The Adaptive Management Program was set up to, um, figure out how best to modify dam operations to protect downstream resources in the Grand Canyon. How do dam operations affect the blue-ribbon rainbow trout fishery? Is, is there a direct connection, or is there a threat that dam operations pose, the way that dam operations actually pose problems for river runners looking for beaches to camp on?

00:41:02 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:41:36

If, if I can take you back to 1984, 1985, pre-Record of Decision when the primary use of the dam was for hydropower, it’s a great facility for peaking power production. In the morning, when people get up and turn on their toasters, they need a lot of power, so they can open the turbines up and send that power out as needed. Um, there’s a, there’s a high market value for that power. So that’s the way they operated the dam. It would fluctuate between, I’ll say 6,000 cfs [cubic feet per second] at night, up to 25,000, even up to 30,000 during the day. So there were, there was a big daily tide that could be six to eight feet in depth. That prevented the rainbow trout fishery from being self-sustaining. In other words, it wouldn’t support itself. It was only supported by stocking. Until the Record of Decision, which (pause) modified those flows so that we didn’t see the great fluctuations during the day, which was pretty good for all the resources, I think, from beaches to (pause) I don’t know about humpback chub, I would have to think about that. But, for most resources, it was thought that that was certainly a big improvement. So we–we know that dam operations can influence that fishery. Low flows can strand fish and kill them directly. They can, um (pause) flows, when dissolved oxygen levels in the reservoir, near the intake, are low, can cause direct mortality to rainbow trout over a short period of time. That’s a tough problem to deal with, because to try and address it with physical operations for the dam can lead to, um, I’ll just call it bearing damage on the turbines. There’s no easy way to mitigate for that low dissolved oxygen. Fluctuated flows can have a big impact. Temperature can have a big impact. And right now we’re worried (pause) we’re worried about the seasonality of these High Flow Experiments that have been a common prescription for Glen Canyon Dam, to run a High Flow Experiment to, generally to build beaches for recreational use. We’ve had, I think, three spring high flow events and, I’ve lost track of the fall high flow events, but we’re concerned now that the high flow events may benefit brown trout, to the detriment of rainbow trout. Until we can do some more experimenting with spring high flows, it’s going to be tough to address that one. But it seems like–it appears there may be seasonal patterns in the releases that may affect the species composition of the tailwater fishery. Um–

Interesting. We haven’t heard all of that before. That’s new information in our interviews so far. Thank you for that.

00:45:10 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:45:18

That’s an–that’s an ongoing issue, and it’s, um, those of us with Trout Unlimited have (pause) tried to bring that within the realm of research questions that need to be asked, because the park has proposed (pause) euthanizing brown trout in the Lees Ferry tailwater by electrofishing, which means putting a, an electrofishing boat, which generally stuns the fish so you can net them up. In a monitoring program, we identify them, measure them, tag them, release them. The Park Service is proposing using that, and then mechanically removing those fish. Um–

That was a very controversial practice at the mouth of the Little Colorado River, not too many years ago, that many of our interviewees have talked about.

00:46:09 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:46:18

Yeah. And, and we, we still don’t know whether that was– there was a reduction in rainbow trout near the mouth, we don’t know if that was because of the mechanical removal or if it was serendipity, we kind of have an “n” of one in that experiment. But I think the people that did that work showed that it was possible to depress the rainbow trout population, at least temporarily. When we’re looking for ways to control brown trout, so they don’t pose a threat to humpback chub downstream, sixty miles downstream, um, we’re looking at trying to attack them in that Lees Ferry reach. Because if they get established there and start spawning there, the general belief is that their young, at high densities in the upper fifteen miles, will go downstream and could have an adverse impact on humpback chub. So we’re trying to find ways to control that brown trout population in the tailwater without resorting to a very costly and intrusive mechanical removal project. I’m sure other people have talked a little bit about that, but because it hasn’t started yet, it’s not really at the top of most people’s news. It’s a concern that Trout Unlimited is–it’s a big concern of the recreational anglers, because it could mean the end of the rainbow trout fishery. (Pause.) Other ways that dam releases affect the recreational fishery (pause) I mean, if you went back to peaking power operations, there would be a lot of, a lot of impacts, to almost all the resources in the canyon. But certainly in that upper fifteen miles.

Well, you’ve got me thinking about change over time now. And, I know that our understanding of the dynamics that affect chub populations and rainbow trout populations, for that matter, have changed over time. There was so little that we understood twenty years ago. Can you, can you kind of, in a concise way, talk about what we have learned, the dead ends that we’ve avoided and the new avenues that we’ve explored in our research on the, you know, the life history of the chub and the rainbow trout, what–looking back twenty years, what have we learned?

00:48:31 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:49:17

Boy, that’s a hard question. With regard to humpback chub, we’ve certainly learned a lot more about their life history, population dynamics. Oh, in the last five years, I think we’ve really pushed at learning more about their spawning behavior, the fact that individual fish likely don’t spawn every year, but may spawn on alternate years, skipped spawning. They may just hang out in the mainstem until they, they’re healthy enough, or if they’ve got enough gonad production to swim up the Little Colorado River and spawn. And then they may not come back for a couple of years. We never, we had no idea about that until recently. We, we knew that there were (pause) groups of humpback chub, we called them aggregations of humpback chub, at different locations in the canyon, where one could go with, primarily, nets, but to some extent electrofishing, and catch humpback chub, adult humpback chub, at those locations. The so-called “nine aggregations.” (Pause.) When, when we started studying fish in the mainstem, we would find young chub distributed fairly widely in the canyon, albeit in very low numbers. In recent years, I’ll say the last five years, we’ve learned that the chub have expanded their range. It’s likely that they’re spawning in the mainstem in western Grand Canyon. And their numbers are (pause) we’re catching fish where we’ve never seen them before. Some of that is because we haven’t sampled extensively in those areas. But I think a big part of it is that there are more chub away from the Little Colorado River than there used to be. Oh, I could probably speculate until next week about why that is. (Pause.) It’s–yeah, but it’s complicated, it could–it’s nutrients, it’s temperature. Like I said, it could be translocations, it could be brown trout removal. But we’ve learned a lot more about their distribution.

One of the ways that the success of the program is measured is in, um, showing how research and learning is affecting decision-making and policy. Can you point to any instances in which something was learned about the chub or the trout, or any other resource that you’ve worked on, and that that scientific understanding, the new understanding, then went back and had an impact on decision-making, in terms of dam operations or anything else?

00:51:59 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:52:37

Well, aside from the 1996 Record of Decision, which had a big impact on both fishery resources and sediment resources, camping beaches, there, there have been, there have been some gains on the sediment side and using High Flow Experiments to build beaches at least short term, to provide camping locations for recreational boaters. Um, on the fishery side of things. I think we learned that, um, with more stabilized flows from the dam, rainbow trout could (pause) reproduce in the Lees Ferry reach and overpopulate the system in that upper fifteen miles. They would, they could be too successful in their reproduction, and have a lot of young fish that would start growing, and then maybe if, um, something else happened to the resource and food base was declining, or flows were lower, so there wasn’t as much food available, that fishery would then decline. So if you look at the shape of the (pause) of the relative population of rainbow trout in that reach, it’s kind of a, kind of a sine curve, where it, it recovers and does quite well, perhaps overpopulates (pause) it has more fish than the resources can support, the fish get unhealthy, um, they die, they don’t reproduce for a couple of years, and the fishery declines. At which point there are fewer fish, so it starts to recover again. So that, the nature of that (pause) I don’t want to call it a crash and decline, but, um, sort of a decline and recovery, we’ve learned quite a bit about. I think we understand quite a bit about how that works now. Still questions about how the food base interacts, that Dr. [Theodore “Ted”] Kennedy and his team are working to address. To grow fish, you’ve got to have nutrients and you’ve got to have food. The nutrients have been a big question mark, just because they’re so low and the–their concentrations are so low that it’s almost impossible to measure them. I think Dr. Kennedy and his group are doing a better job now of getting a handle on that, both in the tailwater and in Lake Mead. Boy, the introduction of PIT tags, Passive Integrated Transponder tags, in the early nineties, um, I think has really helped our understanding of humpback chub and native fish. Primarily the native, the two native suckers. It provided a way to permanently provide an individual mark to individual fish. So, once we had a fish in hand, we could inject it with a PIT tag and that fish would have a, a Social Security Number, basically, that would enable us to identify it for the rest of its life, as long as we either caught it or detected it with passive methods. It looks like humpback chub live to be about forty years old, if not longer.


00:56:37 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:56:39

And in some cases, we’ve got twenty, twenty-five years’ worth of records of individual fish, both in the Little Colorado River and in the mainstem, so– So that technology has helped us a lot better understand life history and behavior of that species. We may catch a fish in one year and then not see that fish again for ten years, and think it’s gone from the system and then poof, there it is again. So it’s, I think, enabled the population modelers to do some pretty amazing things. Looking at adult survival and mortality, looking at vital rates, so recruitment, mortality, growth. And they’re used both in native fish and in rainbow trout. And I think that’s added a lot to what we know. That, and I think advances in, gosh, I’m going to date myself if I say computer technology (laughter). But certainly the ability of biologists and sedimentologists and everyone else to really crunch the numbers and really analyze the data in ways that, when I was young, we just never thought possible. So there have been big advances in the ability of the scientists working on a project.

That’s fascinating.

00:58:16 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:58:18

It’s been fun to watch and it’s, um (long pause) yeah, it’s– I’m, I’m dating myself, I’m aging myself, but I did get this computer to work. So (laughter).

Yeah. Well, I can remember being in college and not having a computer. So that’s how old I am too.

00:58:36 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:58:43

Yeah, you were probably–

Jennifer Sweeney 00:58:44

I’m right there with you guys.

Bill Persons 00:58:47

Were we all punch card users?

Jennifer Sweeney 00:58:49

Yeah, well–

I was a, I was in the humanities, so I didn’t have the punch cards, but eventually I did get a computer to type up my papers rather than a typewriter. And that, that saved a lot of time. That was a big improvement.

00:58:52 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:59:05

Oh, I’ll bet, yeah. I remember paying a–I had to pay a typist to do my thesis.

Yeah. I paid a typist to type my first papers in my master’s degree program and, before I got a computer finally (laughs). Ah, the old days.

00:59:10 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 00:59:21

So that’s, I mean, yeah, we’ve seen some big changes. I think a lot of those changes are reflected in the work that’s gone on in the canyon.

Well, I’m really glad you brought that up, Bill, because my next question is about change over time and specific events that may have triggered a kind of a new phase in the program. I mean, um, historians are interested in change over time, and change doesn’t happen at the same rate all the time. You have, kind of, periods of equilibrium where, you know, the situation doesn’t change very dramatically, and then you get a, maybe a new administration comes in with new policy objectives, or you get a massive flood, or you have a twenty-year drought or some new technology, like you were just talking about with the PIT tags. Is there any other technologies that came in that really made a change, or any events in the history of the program that you think back and you say, “Ah, that was a watershed,” things changed as a result of that?

00:59:31 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:00:25

Well, if you’ve talked to anybody on the sediment side of things, there have been some big technological changes in their world. Using things like Doppler radar (pause) and other remote methods of measuring sediment input remotely. Survey methods have come a long way. When I think about events, um, I think they, they probably tend to be, if I think about the watershed, certainly the 1983 (pause) I don’t know if we’re allowed to call it a flood or not, from Glen Canyon Dam. You know, the very high release years. [P.H.: Right.] And it was 1983, and when I first started down there, I had to kind of laugh, they told me I had a contract to go study the effects of fluctuating flows on the fishery. And my first river trip was on a steady 45,000 cfs.

Wow. That’s a lot of water.

01:01:29 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:01:31

Crystal clear, cold as ice. My first two or three trips were like that. So those, that high flow event, I think, may have set expectations for some resources like beaches fairly high. Because when those flows subsided, there was sand, well, piled up to the 45,000 cfs line. There have been other, you know, there were other flow events during that interim period before the ’96 Record of Decision, or before the ’91 implementation of–they called them interim flows (pause) that reduced those daily fluctuations. I think back to those periods of extreme fluctuations, and I think maybe that was an era of releases that ended fairly abruptly, in about, I think it was about 1991. Interim flows–you probably know more about that history than I do. That kind of reset the ecosystem, I think. Then there were experimental flow events. Typically high flow events, the ’96 one comes to mind as being the first big one. And then there have been subsequent High Flow Experiments that, um (pause) may have had a fairly large impact on sediment resources. It’s hard to measure their impact on aquatic resources, other aquatic resources. (Pause.) Another period that comes to mind is the 2012 equalization flow year. Um (pause). You know what equalization flows are, where they balance the water between Lake Powell and Lake Mead. So that, that led to high flows of greater than 20,000 cfs through most of the summer, that resulted in a bumper crop of rainbow trout at Lees Ferry, um, that subsequently declined. Again, too many fish for the available groceries and available habitat. So I think of those equalization flows as being (pause) maybe not a watershed, but certainly an opportunity to learn. The system was hit, if you will, with a fairly large hammer. There were some fairly large changes in flow patterns. Some of these other experiments that we do, oh, some of us say that we’re tapping the system with a small hammer, and then trying to see how it responds, as opposed to hitting it with a great big hammer to see how it responds. There are some of us that would like to see us hit it with a bigger hammer from time to time. Um–

What would that hammer be, in your mind?

01:04:52 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:04:55

High flow. [P.H.: Uh huh.] With the ongoing drought in the system, and a scarcity of water, that seems pretty unlikely, in, at least in the near future, and maybe in the long term, to be able to do that kind of a flow. The other option would be to hit it with real low flows. I think there are a lot of concerns about impacts on aquatic resources to (pause) to suggest doing anything like that. So, we kind of keep hitting it with small hammers. Oh, it’s like the bug flows that are going on [P.H.: Yeah] right now. That’s, you know, that’s a small hammer, but it’s, it’s a hammer, and we hope we learn from it. I don’t think it’s something we can learn in one year or two years. But given enough time (pause) we m–we may learn if that’s a management option that will benefit aquatic resources. It’ll take some time. Trying to think of other big events. I mean, there have been changes in the administration. A recent one on (pause) just on funding. If you’ve talked to Western [Area Power Administration, or WAPA] or CREDA [Colorado River Energy Distributors Association] or the Basin states about it, um, you know that the current [Trump] administration changed the way the program is funded. [P.H.: Right.] There was a lot of concern about that having a big impact. I know (pause) certainly from (pause) the standpoint of Bureau of Reclamation and GCMRC, trying to fund research and cooperative agreements, that could have a big impact on things. So far, they seem to be holding it together pretty well. (Pause.) What am I forgetting? You know the history better than I do, I suspect. I should have pulled up the Wiki page (laughter).

That’s very helpful. No, you have a good list there, and that’s good enough. I’d like you to, sort of, step back again, and make just a general observation about how well you think wildlife resources have been integrated into adaptive management decision-making over time in this program. Do you feel satisfied that wildlife resources and fish resources get enough attention, and what ways might that be improved in the future?

01:07:11 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:07:42

I think they should get all the attention (laughter). No, not really. I mean, that’s where, that’s where most of my interest lies. The program has changed a lot over time, from a very sediment-oriented, oriented program, where the, the major emphasis was sediment transport, beach building. I would just say the sand-and-mud side of things. Fisheries resources have, I think, gained equal footing with sediment resources right now, just based on how the budget is distributed. So I think that, um, this increased, at least over the last twenty years, increased attention to fisheries resources has been good. We, we know a lot about those resources, we certainly know a lot more about humpback chub. Maybe to the point where the Fish and Wildlife Service might remove them from the endangered species list, or declare them threatened and not endangered. Which I think would be a big relief to a lot of people. Um, and a success story. (Pause.) Cultural resources have sort of always played second or third fiddle. (Pause.) They, they’ve got a smaller stakeholder base, I think. And that may be a big part of that, but, um (pause) I really have no complaints about how, how the program is allocating resources right now. Um, [P.H.: Nice.] I’m a fish guy, so I (laughter) I don’t know that we need to measure every grain of sand (laughter) in the river, but at the same time, we don’t need to measure every single fish either. So.

Um, I had a question on the list about how the needs of game species versus non-game species is managed in your mind. Is there good complementarity there? Do you feel like there’s conflict between the two? Is there more attention on one than the other? Talk about that a little bit.

01:09:51 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:10:13

Yeah. You know, I think there’s more attention on native species, and that’s probably the way it should be. The way Game and Fish Department has tried to manage, um, manage those two species is (pause) is a little problematic. We drew a dividing line at the Paria River, so anything upstream of the Paria River, we thought was worth trying to manage for our recreational fishery. Once sediment and mud comes in at the Paria River, we would like to manage for native fishes. Fish don’t recognize that boundary (laughter) [P.H.: Right]. And it’s an artificial way of looking at the system that I think nine out of ten ecologists would tell me is silly. That’s usually not the way rivers work. But I, but I think, from a management standpoint, being mandated to protect both kinds of resources, I, I think it’s a reasonable compromise. If we, if we find that they really can’t coexist, in other words, the recreational fishery, exotic rainbow trout and native fish can’t coexist (pause) I think our preference would go to the native fish. It’s, it’s a value judgment. And, and there would be a, probably a big fight over it, but, um (pause) I think the geographic boundary was the best I could come up with for a way to sort of divvy up that resources [sic] for both–for the competing interests of non-native fish and native fish.

Yeah, that’s a very interesting compromise. I hadn’t thought about it in exactly those terms before, but it reminds me of the way that federal land managing agencies, like the U.S. Forest Service, think about management priorities on different types of land bases. And, you know, the, in certain areas like riparian areas, they’ll emphasize wildlife habitat, and other areas like flat uplands, where there’s lots of ponderosa pines, they’ll try to emphasize timber harvesting. And it sounds to me like you came up with a–you know, the Paria River makes a pretty obvious dividing point in the river, in many senses, in terms of the hydrology. And, seems like you came up with a workable compromise about prioritizing game fish above and native fish below. Do you think that that has worked out fairly well so far?

01:12:22 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:13:16

(Long pause.) I think so. Um (pause) and I say that because I think both resources are doing fairly well right now. I remember, more when I worked for Game and Fish, the trout fishermen thought I was a native fish guy, so they hated me (laughter), and the native fish people thought I was a trout guy, so they hated me. But maybe not–hate’s too strong of a word, but, um–


01:13:48 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:13:50

Yeah. I mean, they (pause) they didn’t agree with my values. (Pause.) So, maybe on that basis, I think it probably has worked as well as can be expected, probably, as well as we could have done. Like I say, the Paria is kind of a natural demarcation line. [P.H.: Is there–] We’re probably fortunate.

Is there any other way in which those competing values might have been, you know, balanced? A different way of making trade-offs besides that, dividing the river into two parts?

01:14:15 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:14:34

I think not without spending a lot of resources to actively disadvantage one species over another. Because we, we don’t have a lot of tools. We’ve got mechanical removal, where we can go catch and remove fish, which is very objectionable to a large part of the public, and particularly to some of the Native American tribes. The taking of life is (pause) is very offensive. And I think that’s, I think that’s true for a lot of us. And that’s (pause) that may be the only tool in our tool bag. There’s not that much we can do with dam operations, within current constraints, to try and adversely impact rainbow trout in that first fifteen miles. And, I don’t know that there’s much more than what we have done to try and advantage native fish in the lower river, using dam operations. (Long pause.) [P.H.: mm-hmm.] You know, we–it would be nice if we could pat ourselves on the back and say, “Gee, both resources are doing well because of our excellent management.” (Laughter.) But it’s, it’s probably largely serendipity. Oh–well, I’ll take that back. The ’96 Record of Decision, I think, had a big impact. Maybe subsequent Environmental Impact Statements and Record of Decisions less so, but I think we’re moving in the right direction. (Pause.) I hope that’s not too Pollyannish.

No, it sounds realistic to me. Um, let’s shift to the next question. Any key reports or documents that you think were particularly important to the program and its evolution that should be highlighted in a key documents section?

01:16:38 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:16:56

Boy, I think I’ll pass on that one, refer people to the Wiki. There are some real good papers on (pause) on almost all of the resources. (Pause.) So, yeah, I’m just hesitant to point to any key, to any key papers at this point.

That’s fine. How about, um, big-picture value of the program? Should it be continued, in your opinion, and why?

01:17:19 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:17:30

I think it should be continued, to protract–protect the resource, to protect Grand Canyon and downstream resources. Without the program (pause) it’s possible that operations of Glen Canyon Dam would revert to hydro, hydropower peaking operations, which would be detrimental to most of the resources that the program addresses right now. I think as an adaptive management experiment, it’s certainly worth continuing. To keep, to keep pushing adaptive management as a, as a viable management option. Get the stakeholders together at the table, hash things out, come to an agreement where we can. Where we can’t (pause) the federal government seems to be willing to make a decision. (Pause.) I think it’s kept us, I think it’s enabled the stakeholders to be active in making decisions about how that dam is operated, rather than leaving it up to a judge. Which seems like the way things go, if there’s not stakeholder input, or if there’s limited input from the public and the stakeholders. So yeah, I think it’s worth, I think it’s worth keeping alive.

Is there anything that you would like to see improved or added to the program in the future?

01:19:15 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:19:23

(Pause.) It would be nice if they could open up the science a little bit, to attract new blood. Um (pause) I, I think they’ve–I think the program has got the resources pretty well covered. If I’m missing one, or if the program is missing one, I don’t remember hearing about it. Seems for the most part it’s, it has kept us out of litigation. I’ll say for the most part, because I know there’s ongoing litigation right now about the last Record of Decision.

Is that questioning the fact that climate change wasn’t explicitly considered, or something else?

01:20:10 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:20:18

That’s my understanding, yeah. That’s the only one I know of.

All right. Yeah, I heard about that, too.

01:20:21 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:20:23

And that, yeah, that’s thrown some hurdles. Maybe some roadblocks (pause) in what some of our federal (pause) collaborators are able to discuss.

Right. Under this administration.

01:20:40 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:20:44

Yeah. Yeah. Or under this set of lawyers, anyway (laughter). The Department of Interior solicitors are, and they probably have to be pretty adamant about saying, “Don’t go there.”

Yeah, that just um, uh, that brings to light how important changes in, um, the federal administration can be in the development of the program. If you think about what could happen in six months, with a new administration, and, that wants to talk about climate change, I mean, it’s such a no-brainer here, in a region that’s had twenty years of almost uninterrupted drought, with our reservoirs down below 50%, and questions being asked about whether we will ever see those two reservoirs full again, like they were, last time they were full was 1999. Not including climate change as a major topic of research and consideration, um, seems a little bit like the ostrich’s head in the sand to me, but that’s politics.

01:21:01 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:21:57

I agree, but it seems like the Basin states are at least starting to consider it [P.H.: mm-hm, yeah], in their discussions about how water should be allocated in the future. [P.H.: Yes.] I mean, they have to face that fact, um, that we don’t have as much water as we thought we did. And they have to get in front of it. So.

You’re talking about the Drought Contingency Plan that was just adopted in 2019? Yeah.

01:22:21 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:22:26

Yeah. And I think ongoing discussions about how to deal with things like climate change, and continuing drought, or even a greater drought.

What do you think–if the program was authorized to start spending money on research related to climate change’s impacts on resources and dam operations, what do you think we should be looking at, if there was suddenly some additional money for that?

01:22:39 Paul Hirt

Fish! (Laughter.) You know, that’s a good question. I haven’t given that much thought. I think–well, when I was at GCMRC, the Southwest Biological Science Center, who, I guess, is sort of the parent of GCMRC, was getting involved and trying to address effects of climate change on resources in the West. Which would certainly include water resources. I’m not sure where we would be best (pause) devoting additional resources, if we had them, to try and tackle the climate change issue. (Pause.) Probably at, at um, water resources in general, water supply, and what that’s likely to do to the physical environment. Quantity of water, temperature of water, annual fluctuations in flow, and at least trying to project (pause) what that–what that might do to the program. [P.H.: mm]. Because it, it could become a real big issue. In terms of individual resources, I’m not sure (pause) I don’t know what we, what we should maybe devote those additional dollars to. Other than better trying to understand what, what a typical hydrograph might look like.

01:22:59 Paul Hirt

Well, before I ask the last question, I’m going to check with Jen here and see, Jen, is there anything you want to follow up on?

01:24:53 Paul Hirt
Jennifer Sweeney 01:25:01

No, not right now.

Okay. So my last question is, what advice would you give to newly incoming members of the AMWG or TWG?

01:25:03 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:25:10

(Pause.) Get engaged. Do your homework, and, and read whatever you can, whatever you can get your hands on. Certainly, minutes from previous meetings. Talk to your fellow stakeholders. I’ll point to the Wiki again as a great resource for people that are new to the program. But if you can, get engaged. And be active. Participate.

Good advice. Very–

01:25:50 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:25:54

But yeah, that’s (pause), it’s not much, but that’s (pause) that’s what I think we need right now.

Well, that’s commonly what we hear from almost everybody in response to this question. It’s remarkable to me, how dedicated, personally invested in this program, um, all of the folks who have been involved for a long time really care and are really spending a tremendous amount of their time and energy on trying to make this program work well. And, um, they pretty much all say, “Do your homework, and show up, and listen. And, you know, you can make a difference if you invest the time, and it’s worthwhile.” We hear that, just, all the time.

01:26:03 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:26:44

That’s good. I mean, the canyon (pause) the canyon is like heroin. Once you get a taste of it, it seems like you can’t go away and not care about that resource. I don’t know much about heroin, but (laughter) when I think of something that gets in your blood, um, I think of the river and the canyon, and I think a lot of people are affected that way. It’s, it’s such a special place.

Yeah. That describes my relationship with the Grand Canyon, that’s for sure.

01:27:17 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:27:24

Good. I’m glad you guys are working on this. I’ll be curious to see your–I assume you’re going to have a product.

Yes. Well, actually, multiple products. One are these oral history interviews, and, uh, hopefully we’ll have thirty of them by the time we wrap the project up. Another one is an interactive website, with a focus on the administrative history of the program over time, with–it’ll be like the Wiki, but less comprehensive and more focused on historical development and key documents. We’re also producing an orientation packet for new members of the program, which is why I asked that last question.

01:27:33 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:28:05

Excellent. Yeah.

And so, yeah, it’s, um, well, in addition, I guess one more item, Jen and I are writing a narrative history of the program, a twenty to forty thousand-word essay on how the program has developed over time to serve as a kind of an institutionalized memory of the program over time. So, um, it’s a kind of an ambitious project, and I’m grateful that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation put their confidence in us to put this together.

01:28:06 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:28:37

Yeah. I mean, I think it’s a great project. Everything I’ve heard about you guys says you’re doing a really good job.

That’s nice to hear.

01:28:47 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:28:47

I’m glad you’re capturing this. Because it’s tough. It’s a big job.

Well, thank you.

01:28:55 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:28:57

Keep up the good work.

Yeah. We’re very grateful that you persisted, and we were able to successfully complete this interview online. You’re only the second person that we’ve done online, and I think it went very well, and I appreciate, um, your willingness to do this.

01:28:58 Paul Hirt
Bill Persons 01:29:15

Maybe I’ll be brave enough to try a Zoom meeting now (laughter).

Jennifer Sweeney 01:29:20

No, thank you so much for sticking with this, Bill.

Bill Persons 01:29:20

Hey, thank you for your patience.

All right, I’m going to stop recording now.

End of recording.

01:29:27 Paul Hirt

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William "Bill" Persons

Phoenix, AZ


Interview conducted by: Dr. Paul Hirt, Arizona State University and Jennifer Sweeney, Four East Historical Research, LLC. Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program Administrative History Project. Administered by Arizona State University Supported by a grant from the US Bureau of Reclamation.


Aquatic biologist Bill Persons was involved in fisheries research during both phases of Glen Canyon Environmental Studies (GCES), the program that laid the groundwork for adaptive management in Grand Canyon. He has been an active participant in the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program (GCDAMP) since it was implemented. Persons spent most of his professional life with Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD), representing that agency on the GCDAMP Technical Work Group (TWG). He retired from AZGFD in 2009, but continued his involvement in fisheries research at Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center (GCMRC) for six years. Persons is currently a TWG alternate, representing recreational anglers for Trout Unlimited.

Persons, Bill Oral History Interview Transcript

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Persons, Bill. ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW. Transcript of recorded Interview conducted by Paul Hirt, Arizona State University, and Jennifer Sweeney, Four East Historical Research, LLC, on 4 Aug 2020, in Phoenix, Arizona. Edited by Paul Hirt and Jennifer Sweeney.
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