This may sound harsh, but it’s true: Environmentalists tend not to see, handle or understand fish, to distrust agencies dedicated to their recovery, and to set up mental spam-filters for facts about short-lived fish poisons.
Usually, these poisons are the only tools managers have
for saving native trout from being eaten, out-competed or
hybridized out of existence by alien species. During the 70 years
that fish managers have used the fish poison rotenone (derived from
derris root) there is not one documented case of human injury.
Antimycin, an antibiotic developed in the mid 1970s, is equally
safe. Both occasionally kill non-targets — mostly aquatic
insects — which bounce back in weeks and, with alien fish
predators removed, are far more prolific.
As the old saw
goes, just one concerned environmentalist can "make a difference,"
and that’s not always good. Ann McCampbell and Nancy Erman,
the nation’s two busiest piscicide protesters, find rapt
audiences in outfits like Wilderness Watch and the Center for
Biological Diversity, titillating them with bogeyman stories about
rotenone and antimycin. Antimycin, usually applied at between 8 and
12 parts per billion, "is fatal in humans if swallowed (directly
from the bottle)," McCampbell warns.
Given its name, one
might suppose that the Center for Biological Diversity would defend
all biological diversity. But citing co-plaintiff Erman’s
universally contradicted "findings" and professing concern for the
yellow-legged frog (which doesn’t occur in the proposed
treatment area), the center sabotaged restoration of
America’s rarest trout, the Paiute cutthroat of California's
Toiyabe-Humboldt National Forest.
Last year the Forest
Service settled the center’s lawsuit by agreeing not to use
rotenone until it had restudied everything that everyone
who’d been paying attention already knew about it. The feds
shouldn’t be "poisoning streams in a wilderness area without
looking at other options," proclaims the center. But there are no
One might also suppose that a group with
the name "Pacific Rivers Council" would leap to the defense of the
Paiute cutthroat, or at least know something about it. Instead, it
recycled old wives’ tales about rotenone and issued an
"action alert," asserting that "neither the Silver King Creek nor
Tamarack Lake drainages historically supported the threatened
Paiute cutthroat" when these were the only habitats that supported
Finally, one might suppose that a group called
"Wilderness Watch" would fight to save the westslope cutthroat,
Montana’s state fish and as much an icon of American
wilderness as the wolf or grizzly. Instead, it is trying to derail
state efforts to stop alien trout from converting westslopes to
"Poison has no place in wilderness
stewardship," Wilderness Watch declares; but fish and plant poisons
are essential to wilderness stewardship. While the group correctly
observes that the targeted ponds were originally fishless (and
could make a case that they should remain so), it claims that the
westslopes, to be stocked as eggs, have somehow been diminished by
being fertilized in captivity and therefore threaten the natives.
Considering the group’s crusade to preserve the gross genetic
pollution now under way, it couldn’t offer a more
In New Mexico's Gila National
Forest, Wilderness Watch — quoting misinformation from Ann
McCampbell — is impeding recovery of the endangered Gila
trout. The University of Wyoming’s Department of Zoology and
Physiology reports that antimycin has "little to no effect on
invertebrates." Yet Wilderness Watch proclaims that it will kill
"all the native macroinvertebrates." Adult amphibians are
unaffected by piscicides, and larvae are evacuated and held till
after treatment. Yet Wilderness Watch reports that antimycin will
kill "all amphibians."
Wilderness Watch is also impeding
restoration of New Mexico’s state fish, the imperiled Rio
Grande cutthroat. "It is not known whether antimycin is a
carcinogen," it alleges. (It is known that it is not.) Wilderness
Watch also claims to have divined the motives of the U.S. Forest
Service, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service in both Gila trout and Rio Grande
cutthroat recovery: "The purpose is to remove stocked trout and
replace them with the listed Gila trout, in an effort to boost the
population to a level that will allow delisting and resumed sport
fishing of the species." Rio Grande cutthroat recovery, explains
Wilderness Watch, is just a ruse "to kill introduced nonnative
trout and then restock the streams with native Rio Grande Cutthroat
trout (which) is a popular sport species among fishermen."
Saying that native trout restoration is about fishing is
like saying that peregrine restoration is about birding.
"It is both sad and ironic that it was Aldo Leopold who convinced
the Forest Service to protect the Gila as our nation's first
wilderness in the 1930s — now, it is in danger of being
converted to a fish farm for recreationists," laments Wilderness
I see a different irony: It was Aldo Leopold who
wrote the following in his essay "Wilderness for Wildlife": "If
education really educates, there will, in time, be more and more
citizens who understand that relics of the old West add meaning and
value to the new."