Editorial: Creek poisoning – Let’s throw this one back
August 25, 2005
It doesn’t take much for the hand of man to disturb the ecological balance of a stream, but bringing balance back is a difficult, and in some cases impossible, undertaking.
Such may be the underlying conflict for the California Department of Fish and Game’s effort to poison Silver King Creek in Alpine County to create an artificial habitat for the endangered Paiute cutthroat trout, a species believed to have been native to the creek, but forced out when the food chain changed.
The proposed poisoning has been mired in controversy, which came to a head this week when fish and game officials, all set to start the process of releasing rotenone poison in an 11-mile section of the creek, were ordered to stop by a judge. The federal court order came after a Sacramento Superior Court ordered Aug. 19 that the poisoning go ahead last Wednesday.
A consortium of conservation groups – including California for Alternatives to Toxics, Wilderness Watch and Friends of Hope Valley – have been vocal opponents of the poisoning, arguing that potential damage to other trout species and other parts of the ecosystem don’t outweigh the potential benefits of preserving the Paiute cutthroat trout in this section of creek.
The department has said its efforts on another section of the creek to pursue a similar goal have been largely successful, and that this is a critical step in replenishing the trout’s waning populations – the fish is on the state’s endangered species list.
But opponents of rotenone poisoning may have the best arguments.
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When poisoning efforts fail, the cost, both in money and environmental degradation, are high. In the high-profile case of Lake Davis, an effort to eradicate northern pike failed. In the case of Silver King Creek, trying to restore one population of trout by eradicating others may have a similar long-term result. In the meantime, the creek is closed for years to recreation, while rehabilitation efforts take place.
It is hard to ignore the laws of nature. As it pertains to an Alpine creek that sees a lot of human use, especially by anglers, a future disruption of the ecological balance is likely. Fish strains are subject to the same genetic influences of cross-hybridization as other animal species. And killing a creek is a drastic solution.
Perhaps South Lake Tahoe resident Mary Lou Mossbacher, who is involved in the fight against the poisoning, said it best: “We can’t save everything. I think things are supposed to evolve out and in.”
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