Judge ruling due to plan to poison creek | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Judge ruling due to plan to poison creek

Amanda Fehd

A judge in Sacramento will issue a decision Friday on whether the California Department of Fish and Game may use rotenone to kill all the fish in a section of Silver King Creek in Alpine County in order to introduce the endangered Paiute cutthroat trout.

Wilderness Watch, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics and Friends of Hope Valley requested a temporary restraining order.

They argue Fish and Game has not studied what effect the poison would have on the rest of the species in the creek, and it’s not proven the area in question was once in the trout’s range.

Fish and Game disputes the organizations’ claims and contends the trout’s habitat includes the project area. Also, to show what affect the poison would have on other species would mean providing an inventory of aquatic insects which are not even known to exist.

The organizations are also concerned about past violations of permit conditions in rotenone projects by Fish and Game. Rotenone has been found to persist, despite efforts to neutralize it, according to court documents.

That is most likely because of water temperatures being too cold to allow a fast chemical reaction with the neutralizer, said Katherine Hill, a senior biologist with Fish and Game. Sunlight and organisms also break down the poison.

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The department learns more each time they work with rotenone, said Hill. They have changed the timing, concentration and formulation when they use rotenone to make sure it does not persist.

Fish and Game is ready to pack into the Carson Iceberg Wilderness to distribute the poison on Sunday, if granted permission.

The department performed similar work in the early ’90s on the uppermost section of the creek, effectively restoring the trout to its undisputed native habitat.

This treatment will focus on a series of 8- to 10-foot waterfalls now inhabited by hybrids of Paiute and Lahontan cutthroat.

“We have a stable and established Paiute cutthroat trout in those areas (treated in the ’90s), separated by natural barriers from the hybrid species,” said Hill. “Once this treatment is finished, the fish will be restored to 100 percent of its historic native range.”

But its unclear whether its historic range included the waterfalls, said George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch, which gets involved in issues that affect designated wilderness throughout the country.

“There’s a tremendous amount of scientific controversy over whether this is establishing an endangered species,” said Nickas. “It’s been recovered in the area it’s known to have occurred. This may be expanding the range of that species to a range where it may not have been previously.”

The data on the fish’s original range is all anecdotal, Hill said.

“We think the information we have from a rancher in the area at the time who had sheepherders in the area is more reliable than any other information in the area,” Hill said.

The organizations are also asking for an environmental impact statement on what affects the poison would have on other species in the water.

“If you are going to poison a stream system and kill everything in it, you need to know what’s in it before you do it,” said Julia Olson, staff lawyer at CATs who is representing all organizations.

Hill said the species in question are primarily aquatic insects, which have not been described to science. That is, they could or could not exist. So documenting this is out of the realm of what the department is required to do.

“We are essentially being asked to prove a negative,” Hill said.