Restoration-by-poisoning plan shot down

  Just hours before the California Department of Fish and Game was to poison a stream in the Sierra Nevada — part of an effort to restore a threatened trout — a federal court halted the project.

The plan called for killing all fish in an 11-mile stretch of Silver King Creek and Tamarack Lake, then restocking the area with Paiute cutthroat trout, the rarest trout in North America, according to the agency. Currently, a mix of rainbow trout, Lahontan cutthroat trout and brown trout — introduced for anglers decades ago — interbreed with the Paiute trout and compete for its food. Although six runs of pure Paiute exist elsewhere in the Sierra, Fish and Game says it’s important to return the fish to its historical range in that section of Silver King Creek, in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness.

In August, however, the nonprofit group Californians for Alternatives to Toxics sued to force the U.S. Forest Service to complete an environmental impact statement before letting the state poison the stream with rotenone (HCN, 5/7/01: Debate rages over fish poisoning). The group is concerned because the poison would kill all animals in the stream and could adversely affect the rare mountain yellow-legged frog.

On Aug. 31, Judge Frank C. Damrell Jr. ordered the project stopped until the Forest Service can prepare an environmental impact statement. But Fish and Game now says that it is nixing the plan entirely, having spent all of the $260,000 earmarked for the project. "They (the plaintiffs) basically spent us into the ground," says department spokesman Patrick Foy. "We’ve thrown in the towel."