Fish story far from finished in Alpine County
August 25, 2005
A federal judge, who issued a last-minute restraining order earlier this week preventing state officials from poisoning an Alpine County stream hours before it was to happen, will revisit the issue Tuesday in Sacramento.
U.S. District Court Judge Frank Damrell will preside in a second hearing, this time looking at an injunction against the poisoning.
The poisoning is intended to exterminate fish species so that the rare Paiute trout can be planted. Opponents are worried that other rare species would be harmed in the process.
The case was filed by Californians for Alternatives to Toxics and Wilderness Watch and South Lake Tahoe resident Laurel Ames and Ann McCampbell, a Santa Fe, N.M., physician.
The case challenges the U.S. Forest Service’s environmental assessment on the project, according to Ames. The Forest Service has until 5 p.m. Monday to submit any evidence to be used during arguments. Plaintiffs have until noon on Friday. The hearing begins at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Sacramento Superior Court, Courtroom 2, 15th floor.
The application of rotenone by state and federal wildlife officials would kill all the fish in approximately 11 miles of Silver King Creek and its tributaries. A neutralizer would, within two or three years, make the waterway habitable again to allow for planting of Paiute cutthroat trout, a threatened species on the federal Endangered Species List.
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About 35 Fish and Game and Forest Service officials entered the wilderness area south of Lake Tahoe last week to prepare for the project after Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd G. Connelly Jr. gave them the go-ahead. On Aug. 19, Connelly ruled against conservationists saying that a temporary stay of the project “would be against the public interest.”
The judge said there was not enough evidence before him to decide that the “degrading impacts” on the watershed and its ecosystem outweigh the public’s interest in preserving the Paiute.
Tuesday, Damrell ordered that the kill be stopped.
California Department of Fish and Game spokesman Steve Martarano said the crews were contacted about 4 p.m. Tuesday via satellite phone, and were told not to proceed with the poisoning, which was to commence at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
“They were eagerly awaiting the decision,” said Martarano. “We’re not giving up. The project was stopped on time. Part of the problem is the Forest Service hadn’t conducted the proper NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) requirements. We’re leaving about five people out there. We had literally tons of equipment in there. That stuff’s coming back out. It is just a logistical decision. Otherwise it would all have to be in there for a week.”
Martarano said it is a seven-mile hike into Silver King Creek below Llewellyn Falls where the poisoning was planned.
It took Fish and Game information officer Patrick Foy 3 1/2 hours to reach the poisoning site earlier this week, said Martarano. Foy was still at the site on Wednesday, taking pictures.
Laurel Ames, 58, a South Lake Tahoe native, attended Tuesday’s hearing in Sacramento. She said the hearing that began at 9:30 a.m. was supposed to end by noon. Damrell’s decision didn’t come in until almost 4 p.m.
Ames, who doesn’t represent any particular group, said the crews had been too optimistic about what the outcome of Tuesday’s hearing would be.
“They jumped the gun,” said Ames. “There was an assumption on their part that they would prevail. They did this last year when they thought Lahontan (Regional Water Quality Control Board) was going to give them a permit. They went in without waiting for it.”
Martarano said this time it came a lot closer than it did when their permit was denied in September 2004.
“We had a couple of days then, at least,” he said. “This time we were within hours.”
Liz and Don Weirauch, members of High Sierra Fly Casters and owners of the Angler’s Edge in Gardnerville, went fishing at Silver King Creek three weeks ago. Two in their party, Don and his friend Steve Morris, a U.S. Marine instructor, caught and released approximately 60 fish each, according to Weirauch.
She was embarrassed to admit she forgot her reel that day. In spite of this, she pulled in about 30 fish.
“No one ever mentions this is a wild trout stream,” said Liz. “They’re just ruining that stream if they poison it.”