Fish kill dead for this year
August 30, 2005
A project to kill off non-native trout in a creek in Alpine County is dead in the water for this year after a federal judge ruled Tuesday the U.S. Forest Service should have done an environmental analysis of the site.
U.S. District Court Judge Frank Damrell granted an injunction against the California Department of Fish and Game, prohibiting it from using rotenone to poison 11 miles of Silver King Creek in order to restore the endangered Paiute cutthroat trout.
He set another hearing for Oct. 21 to determine what type of analysis is needed.
Crews packed in last week to do the project, but were stopped by a restraining order from Damrell.
Since the poison requires warm water to neutralize, October will be too late for the project to proceed this year, if at all.
Fish and Game officials are worried the legal wrangling will never end.
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“I’m very disappointed. It’s been a gigantic waste of effort and money,” said Katherine Hill, a senior biologist for Fish and Game, which helped coordinate the project. “I couldn’t disagree more with the judge’s decision. If the argument comes down to rare endemic bugs, it will never end; that’s the worry.”
The plaintiffs argued the Forest Service and Fish and Game had not studied the effects of rotenone on the other species in the creek, referring mostly to aquatic insects.
The ruling is victory for Californians Against Toxics, the Wilderness Watch, South Lake Tahoe resident Laurel Ames and Ann McCampbell, a Santa Fe, N.M., physician.
“The court’s ruling has given us a chance to save all living things that depend on the stream including the Paiute cutthroat trout,” said George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch, in a statement. “It’s a real victory for preserving the integrity of the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness.”
Fish and Game argued it’s not known that the insects even exist, so it would be like proving a negative to try to find them and count them.
The project intended to exterminate non-native and hybrid trout so the endangered Paiute cutthroat trout can be planted.
A neutralizing agent is added to the water and would make the waterway habitable again to fish. Sunlight also neutralizes the poison.
About 35 Fish and Game and Forest Service workers 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.
In the Aug. 19 ruling, Connelly said 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.
The plaintiffs also filed a federal complaint, and last Tuesday, Damrell ordered that the kill be stopped.