Poison may save rarest trout species | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Poison may save rarest trout species

Gregory Crofton
The Associated Press file The U.S. Forest Service approved a plan, which includes poisoning a stretch of Silver King Creek, to rid it of nonnative competitors so that Paiute cutthroat trout, like the one shown above, may survive.

California Department of Fish and Game this week received approval to use low levels of fish poison in an Alpine County creek in an effort to save what is considered the rarest trout species in North America.

The poison is needed to kill off nonnative trout to create room for the native Paiute cutthroat trout, a threatened species. Last summer fish biologists shocked, netted and transplanted about 500 nonnative trout, but they say poison is needed to complete the job.

A lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and a professor of aquatic ecology from UC Davis brought the fish restoration project to a halt last year. It had been slated to begin fall of 2003 along Silver King Creek.

The suit alleged that Fish and Game had not done adequate analysis of how the poison might affect the environment other than killing nonnative trout. The parties dropped the lawsuit after state and federal agencies agreed to do an environmental assessment for the project.

“The analysis demonstrates that the use of chemicals to remove nonnatives from historical Paiute cutthroat habitat is the only method that is likely to be successful,” said Jack Troyer, regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service’s Intermountain Region.

Individuals or groups who still oppose the project have the right to appeal the regional forester’s decision. The Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday indicated they would not appeal it.

Nancy Erman, a retired professor of aquatic ecology at UC Davis, could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but a letter she wrote in January to Jim Harvey, a fish biologist for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, indicated that she thinks the environmental assessment completed for the project was not adequate.

Brad Davis, managing partner of Carson River Resort, not far from Silver King Creek, said he supports Fish and Game’s plan to use the poison.

“You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet,” Davis said. “We’ll lose the fish in there, but in order to take the Paiute cutthroat off the (threatened) species list, that’s the way to do it.”

If the regional forester’s decision is not appealed, the poison would be applied this fall and the following fall. It would be spread across six miles of Silver King Creek, in five miles of tributaries to Silver King Creek and Tamarack Lake.

Wildlife managers would then reintroduce Pauite cutthroat trout grown in a hatchery, including trout from other fisheries in the state, to improve the species’ genetic characteristics.

Silver King Creek is located in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, which is south of Markleeville. A seven-mile hike is required to reach the creek.

“This is a remarkably beautiful fish,” said Gary Schiff, a district ranger for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, which manages the use of Silver King Creek. “We’re always putting more species on to the endangered list. Here’s a chance to take one off.”

Schiff said the area, some day soon, may be the only place in the world a Paiute cutthroat trout can legally be caught and released.

Appeals can be made within 45 days of the regional forester’s decision. For more information, call Dan Duffield, regional fisheries program manager, at (801) 625-5662.

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