When poisoning is the solution

A victory for an endangered fish, though some environmentalists fought hard to prevent it.

 

One of the more spectacular success stories of the Endangered Species Act is playing out in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness of the Toiyabe-Humboldt National Forest, high in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Heroic and persevering managers of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service have prevailed in their 10-year legal battle to save America’s rarest trout -- the federally threatened Paiute cutthroat. Its entire natural habitat consists of nine miles of Silver King Creek.

Cutthroat trout subspecies of the Interior West are being hybridized off the planet by rainbow trout from the Pacific Northwest, dumped into their habitat during the age of ecological illiteracy, which ended circa 1970.

In most cases, the only hope for the natives is rotenone, a short-lived, easily neutralized, organic poison rendered from tropical plants.

But a war on rotenone has been declared by chemophobic environmentalists, who refuse to learn about it, and by anglers who don’t care what’s on the other end of the rod so long as it’s bent. Although rotenone is essential to management as defined by the Wilderness Act, the group Wilderness Watch, for example, asserts that “poison has no place in wilderness.” And Peter Moyer, founder of the Orwellian-named Wild Trout Conservation Coalition, offers this mindless defense of cutthroat trout extinction: “I am a bit of a mongrel myself.”

State and federal fisheries managers are mandated by the Endangered Species Act to save the natives by poisoning the aliens. For years, however, this work has been impeded by individuals, publications and organizations that concoct and recycle horror stories about rotenone. Apparently, they haven’t figured out that fish are wildlife, too.

The worst offenders have been Outdoor Life magazine, Range magazine,Real Fishing magazine, Friends of the Wild Swan, Beyond Pesticides, Defenders of Wildlife, two Sierra Club chapters, Wild Trout Conservation Coalition, Wilderness Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Rivers Council, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, Friends of Silver King Creek, and the Western Environmental Law Center.

The last six of these organizations managed to derail Paiute cutthroat recovery for a full decade. They accomplished this with endless appeals and lawsuits, all based on fiction. Typical of the absurd statements about rotenone was this proclamation by the pro bono counsel for the litigants, the Western Environmental Law Center: “Unfortunately, the chemical does not just kill the fish in the water but the entire ecosystem, including turtles, snakes, frogs, birds, terrestrials, insects and other animals that live in or drink from the poisoned water.”

Rotenone used in fish recovery has never affected an ecosystem except to restore it. And it has never killed a turtle, snake, frog, bird or any terrestrial organism. Aquatic insects usually survive treatment, and the few that don’t are swiftly replaced by natural recruitment. In fact, insects frequently do better after treatment because they don’t have to contend with fish they didn’t evolve with.

Appellants and litigants claimed a “link” between rotenone and Parkinson’s disease, basing this untruth on an Emory University study in which concentrated rotenone was mainlined into rats’ jugular veins via implanted pumps. (Rotenone used in fisheries management is applied at less than 50 parts per billion.) At the end of a year and a half no rat had Parkinson’s disease. The researchers knew they couldn’t cause Parkinson’s and never intended to. They wanted to establish a “Parkinson’s-like condition” -- i.e. tremors -- in an animal model.

Appellants and litigants also claimed that rotenone threatened the rare mountain yellow-legged frog. But it was extirpated in the watershed sometime in the 20th century, probably by the very alien rainbow trout that had been extirpating Paiute cutthroats. Rotenone doesn’t affect adult frogs but can kill tadpoles, though it usually doesn’t. If frogs are present, managers delay treatment until tadpoles transform. Ironically, rotenone is being used elsewhere in the Sierras to recover yellow-legged frogs by killing the alien trout that are eating them.

With each successful appeal and lawsuit, rotenone opponents boasted that they had “saved” Silver King Creek. But last August they ran out of legal options, and the managers applied about two quarts of rotenone to the entire treatment area. In case a few hybrids survived, two more quarts will be applied next August. Then, pure Paiutes will be reintroduced.

This will be the first time humans have restored a threatened or endangered fish to 100 percent of its historic range. Maybe it’s a turning point in the war.

Ted Williams is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News. He writes for Fly Rod & Reel magazine. 

Jeff Kane
Jeff Kane
Mar 12, 2014 11:42 AM
It is shocking and appalling that HCN editors would publish and syndicate such vitriolic and misinformed "opinion." One does not even need to read beyond the author's personal attack on the people and interests involved in this issue to know that the author does not have anything constructive to offer to public debate about this project, its history, and the investment and dedication of individuals involved on both sides of it. Aside from misstating and dismissing the legitimate issues with applying a pesticide, one that is banned throughout most of the civilized world due its toxicity, to waters in a Wilderness area, he fails to acknowledge many of the other nuances that were at the heart of the challenges to this project. Namely, that paiute cutthroat trout have a number of other viable populations in the Sierra Nevada and that the state and federal agencies have never been able to demonstrate that the poisoned reach was exclusively PCT habitat before they began stocking non-native trout there, that the purported "barrier" below the poisoned reach will actually keep the non-natives from re-colonizing, or that the poison will not have lasting impacts on the invertebrate, amphibian, and other fauna that inhabit Silver King Creek. And to suggest that the damaging practices of the hook and bullet club state and federal wildlife agencies somehow ceased in the 1970s -- puhhlease -- this only demonstrates the author's own bias and "ecological illiteracy."

I hope HCN's editors will refrain from publishing such biased, factually inaccurate claptrap, whether or not in the guise of "opinion."
Maya Leonard-Cahn
Maya Leonard-Cahn
Mar 12, 2014 01:29 PM
I couldn't agree more with the previous comment. This author either didn't bother or didn't care to read the scientific literature demonstrating the catastrophic effects of rotenone on ecosystems, particularly with regard to non-target species. The effects of rotenone applications on aquatic ecoystems are much more complex than this author admits. Studies by respected authors including Dawson, Anderson, Beal, and Bradbury, have all demonstrated substantial reductions to phytoplankton and zooplankton following rotenone applications. This research does not deserve to be overlooked. Further, the author's complete dismissal for the argument that poison does not belong in wilderness is further evidence of his profound bias. I hope other readers will delve further than this author was willing to go into the complex and nuanced issue of the poisoning of Silver King Creek. Maybe then we can have a more a productive dialog about this important issue.
Jeff Kane
Jeff Kane
Mar 12, 2014 03:45 PM
Since Mr. Williams himself is better at undermining his own credibility, opinion, and avowed cause than anyone else, please see his full libelous, vindictive screed and response to comments here:
http://www.flyrodreel.com/magazine/2014/conservation
Robb Cadwell
Robb Cadwell Subscriber
Mar 12, 2014 09:04 PM
Way to go Ted! You get sick of scribbling WS has a place for you distributing M44.
Ted Williams
Ted Williams Subscriber
Mar 12, 2014 09:06 PM
Jeff: Thanks for posting that link. See also: http://www.scottchurchdirect.com/[…]/ann-and-nancys-war?pg=1
Ted Williams
Ted Williams Subscriber
Mar 13, 2014 09:58 AM
Jeff, as a board member for Wilderness Watch--the group that has done more than any other to torpedo imperiled-fish recovery throughout the West--can you please tell us why your outfit supports every icon of wilderness save native cutthroat trout? (By the way, the other “viable populations in the Sierra Nevada” are in non-native habitat and created by the managers for the express purpose of restoring the fish to its NATIVE habitat. And by the way, rotenone for freshwater fisheries management, which is applied at less than 50 parts per BILLION, has not been “banned” anywhere.”)

And Maya, as Campaign Coordinator for the Western Environmental Law Center, do you stand by your outfit’s public comment that: “Unfortunately, the chemical [rotenone] does not just kill the fish in the water but the entire ecosystem, including turtles, snakes, frogs, birds, terrestrials, insects and other animals that live in or drink from the poisoned water.” If you do, please tell us why we should believe anything you say. If you don’t, please tell us why you work for an outfit that says things like that.
David Lass
David Lass
Mar 13, 2014 05:18 PM
As a conservationist and fanatical angler of fish of all different sizes, shapes and colors, I strongly feel that native trout are inherently part of Wilderness “character and values,” and there aren't many places where wild populations of native fish still persist. Wilderness is one of those places. Thankfully Wilderness lands across our great nation still provide some of the last, best habitat and forage for native fishes to thrive; Wilderness lands truly are the last refugia for native trout, salmon and steelhead. My hope is that as folks read this piece from Ted, they understand that Wilderness and native trout are synonymous, and in cases like Silver King Creek where we managed to screw things up in the past, rotenone is, in the view of both Trout Unlimited (leading coldwater fish organization representing anglers) and Wilderness managers, the “minimum tool” for restoring native trout to their historic ranges in Wilderness. It's also the most cost effective and provides the smallest cummulative impact over the long run when compared to mechanical and dewatering or pumping treatments.

As Ted describes, this has been a really long and drawn out saga, and I really hope that those on either side of the table can come together to agree that native fish and Wilderness are two great things we should all embrace as Americans. I know I'm stoked that Paiute cutts are finally going to come home to Silver King creek, not out of any desire to fish for them, but just because it's the right thing to do. Great work in telling this story, Ted.
Erik Schlenker-Goodrich
Erik Schlenker-Goodrich
Mar 14, 2014 04:38 PM
The Western Environmental Law Center is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm. We represent grassroots, community-based conservation efforts in the West to protect clean air, clean water, wildlands, and wildlife. Our litigation is rooted in science and law. We certainly share in the desire to restore native trout, but the effects of rotenone (a neurotoxin) to ecosystems are (despite Mr. William's simplification) controversial, which is among the reasons why one federal court chose to enjoin this project. Ted Williams is entitled to his opinion, but we stand by our work.

We'd also note that Maya Leonard-Cahn did excellent work for WELC during our campaign to prevent field burning in Oregon but did not work in this issue and is no longer on our staff.

Sincerely,
Erik Schlenker-Goodrich
Executive Director
Western Environmental Law Center
Ted Williams
Ted Williams Subscriber
Mar 14, 2014 06:05 PM
Erik:
I reported facts, facts you and the groups your attorneys represented don’t want to know and don’t want the public to know. My statements about rotenone are not “opinions,” as you would know if you’d read the scientific literature. The court enjoined the project because your attorneys shopped for a clueless judge. When the judge finally learned the facts about rotenone in imperiled-fish recovery he lifted the injunction.
 
The reason rotenone use in fisheries management is “controversial” is because of the wives’ tales gushing from groups such as yours. Here is a typical example:

“Unfortunately, the chemical [rotenone] does not just kill the fish in the water but the entire ecosystem, including turtles, snakes, frogs, birds, terrestrials, insects and other animals that live in or drink from the poisoned water.”

Guess where that came from. The group you run published it as press release! And it’s only one of many such wild, ridiculous untruths used in the litigation you claim is “rooted in science.”

(Any fisheries biologists out there care to chime in on the veracity of that press release?)

Erik, do you stand by the above statement? If so, please tell us why we should believe anything you or your outfit says. If not, please tell us why you allow your staff to publish such gross misinformation. And please tell us when the retraction and apology will be published.
Lorie Swanson
Lorie Swanson
Mar 14, 2014 10:40 PM
I am writing this comment to inform the organizations and individuals who are against rotenone being used in the wilderness that there is another intact ecosystem being poisoned. Yellowstone National Park Service has begun this past summer poisoning Grayling Creek and Elk Creek inside Yellowstone National Park. There are other creeks, rivers and lakes slated to be poisoned these coming years. Of course this is to kill non-natives, yet we all know poison of any kind is not selective. I hope if you are interested you will look into this matter and make your voice heard.
Ted Williams
Ted Williams Subscriber
Mar 15, 2014 07:59 AM
So Lorie, one must conclude from your post that because “poison of any kind is not selective” you are against Yellowstone Park saving fluvial Arctic grayling from extirpation in the contiguous states, that you are against Yellowstone Park saving Westslope cutthroats from extinction, that you are against Yellowstone Park saving Yellowstone cutthroats from extinction, that you are against the use of rotenone in the Sierras to prevent extinction of the mountain yellow-legged frog, that you are fine with letting yellow star thistle destroy millions of acres of wildlife habitat in the Northwest, that you are fine with letting Brazilian pepperbush destroy millions of acres of wildlife habitat in the Southeast, that you are fine with letting cancer patients tough it out without non-selective poisons (id est, chemotherapy), that when you are sick you eschew all antibiotics because they kill a few of your good bugs, too….

Is it your contention that poisons aren’t supposed to be used in wilderness? If so, where did you acquire that misinformation? From Wilderness Watch? That outfit doesn’t “watch” anything that’s underwater or written in the Wilderness Act.

Yeah, rotenone in fisheries management kills a few nontargets. But it is usually the only tool available to save imperiled fish. By the way, all the nontargets bounce quickly back and often do better than they did before treatment because they don’t have to cope with predators they didn’t evolve with.

Andrew V Sipocz
Andrew V Sipocz
Mar 15, 2014 01:35 PM
I think there's a lot of misunderstanding about invasive, non-native species and why biologists often try to remove them. Even among biologists. Why are they so bad? The explanation given by field techs and others as to why they are trying to kill something often fails to convince the audience that what is occurring is a good thing.

Small pox was an invasive species brought to North America with European colonization that decimated a population that had no evolutionary history with it and so no immunity. People have a hard time realizing what an incredible barrier the oceans are to organisms. Life on the earth's continents coevolves almost as if each were on separate planet. When we bring species in from off-continent we are dooming native species and reducing the planet's biodiversity and thus resilience. And these invasive species may later die off when their parasites and diseases catch up to them with later introductions - the European honey bee is an example of this and its demise is leaving a huge, unfilled hole in our need for pollinators since the honeybee killed off many native pollinators, many never described (the honeybee was introduced in the 1500's). A review of the extinctions that occurred when North and South America naturally joined together, slowly over millions of years, is eye-opening. As is a map I recently saw that described each oceanic transit by a ship or plane with a thin line. The map showed the continents joined with essentially solid bridges of transits and thus invasive species introductions are overtaking habitat loss as the greatest cause of extinction on earth.
Erik Schlenker-Goodrich
Erik Schlenker-Goodrich
Mar 15, 2014 01:54 PM
Dear Mr. Williams:

I'd say that I'd like to have a beer with you to discuss this issue, but it's quite clear that you have no interest in reasoned, respectful dialogue. Instead, it seems that you simply desire to polarize a complicated scientific issue and, in the process, do yourself and this issue a disservice. But I'll say this: it's my 20+ years of academic and professional experience that restoration work is rarely simple. If you are truly interested in understanding the work we did in this case (which, frankly, I doubt) I'd encourage you to look at the official public record, filed with the court. Specifically, this is what the Silver King Creek plaintiffs asserted in their opening brief:

"Application of rotenone could also impact the terrestrial food web through loss and alteration of the aquatic food web for an indeterminate time. RAR 297; RAR 1784; RAR 941; RAR 23253 (stating that “[w]hen a food source of such importance and magnitude as aquatic invertebrates is changed or extinguished in an area, even temporarily, it can have repercussions in many parts of the food web”). Emerging adult insects are a major food source for many terrestrial insects, birds (including yellow warbler and Williamson’s sapsucker), amphibians, mammals (especially bats), reptiles, etc., but would be eliminated from the system after poisoning. Id. Subsequent major shifts in invertebrate communities, in quality, quantity, and timing of emergence can be expected. RAR 941. Thus, the loss and alteration of large portions of emerging insects for several years during and following poisoning of miles of stream would be a major impact to riparian animals. Id.

These "RAR" cites are cites to opinions of scientists with Ph.Ds in relevant disciplines. Seems reasonable to me their views are worthwhile for consideration by agencies before they decide to dump neurotoxins into a river. And again, restoration work is tricky, which is why compliance with environmental laws is important--to ensure a reasoned and informed decision-making process. A federal judge agreed with that perspective. (note: I'd also suggest that your ill-advise characterization of this federal judge as "clueless" reveals less about them and more about your own noxious, polarizing writing style).

In any event, what you are ultimately missing—on purpose it seems—is that the focus of efforts related to Silver King Creek were based on what a special wilderness stream it is and the comprehensive values that wilderness involves (which does not fixate on a single species but, rather, the whole ecological system within that wilderness and how it should be managed). And, that if an agency is going to dump neurotoxins like rotenone into it, it should know precisely not only what it intends to kill (the very same fish planted historically by the same agency that later doesn’t like them, because it wants to ultimately create a new fishery for a different prized fish), but also what it may kill that lives there and lives there as well. There’s a long legacy of humanity thinking that it’s doing a good thing when in reality, it causes a myriad of nasty, unintended consequences. You’d be wise to consider that truth.

I know, nuance is never easy, but since you apparently consider yourself a “reporter,” I figure someday you may get there.

Quite sincerely,

Erik Schlenker-Goodrich
Executive Director
Western Environmental Law Center
Ted Williams
Ted Williams Subscriber
Mar 15, 2014 02:43 PM
Erik:
Facts you don’t want to know do not equal disrespectful dialogue. And the “polarization,” alas, has been the work of your outfit and the outfits you have represented in your expensive, failed litigation on rotenone use in Silver King Creek. All are too lazy and too arrogant to learn about rotenone and imperiled fish recovery as mandated by the Endangered Species Act. I have read, in fact quoted, the absurd brief of your unsuccessful plaintiffs. All the things you and they claim might have happened have NEVER happened in modern fish recovery. One of the “scientists with Ph.Ds” that supplied you with those “opinions” has no professional experience with aquatic systems, but is an alleged MD who does not practice. She claims she’s so allergic to all chemicals she has to sleep in a car and testifies between inhalations from a gas mask. Another falsely and publicly accused Trout Unlimited and the managers of genetically contaminating pure Lahontan cutthroat habitat and when I caught her refused to apologize or retract--just as you have refused to apologize for or retract your outfit’s published rubbish about rotenone that I have twice quoted here. There is no evidence that the “agency” planted aliens in the treatment area--another piece of rubbish you and your failed litigants keep recycling. In your previous post you claim that “We certainly share in the desire to restore native trout.” And at the same time you stridently oppose what in almost all cases, including the case of Silver King Creek, is the ONLY tool available to restore native trout. I urge you to learn about native-fish recovery, to learn about rotenone, to stop squandering your contributors’ funds, to stop blocking enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, and to stop threatening the existence on this planet of wilderness icons like native trout.
Lorie Swanson
Lorie Swanson
Mar 15, 2014 05:26 PM
Oh Ted. How sad it is when someone in your position as a writer doesn’t even bother to ask the important questions before jumping to absurd conclusions. Is this how you write all your articles?

Before concluding what my beliefs are and bashing me for simply stating the fact “that poison is not selective”, you had an opportunity to ask me a simple question: “How do I feel about saving endangered species?” Instead, you chose to make all sorts of crazy conclusions about what I think. Isn’t the job of someone managing a comment board, like yourself, to keep the people who post there on topic? Did you know that the first thing educators teach their young students is to ask questions first, and to never jump to conclusions, and that this is also the general rule for making assumptions in life as well?

As for me, I am only responding to your comment to reaffirm my statement that poison isn’t selective. The conclusions you jumped to are only assumptions as I never said in my original comment that I didn’t want endangered species to be saved. I simply requested for people to make their voice heard in regards to rotenone being used in Yellowstone National Park and in the wilderness.

So, since you stated several inaccurate conclusions, let me set the record straight, so you don’t have to come up with any more of your incorrect conclusions. Your conclusions in your comment to me are simply your conclusions. They aren’t right, and to be quite honest some of them downright disgust me.

Here is what I believe. I support endangered species of all kinds being saved from extinction. I do NOT support the use of poison to save them because science has proven poison isn’t selective. Every animal in that ecosystem will use that water after the poison was dumped into it. When Yellowstone poisoned Grayling Creek with rotenone this past summer there were signs posted by them way downriver to stay out of the creek and to not drink the water. Most people can read the signs, but go ahead and conclude, because I know you like to do that, that since the animals can’t read, they drank, fed and bathed in that creek. If the poison rotenone is so safe, why the sign?

If someone gave you a glass of clear looking water and told you it was taken from several miles downstream from where Yellowstone officials dumped in rotenone would you drink it? Remember, there is a sign telling you that you shouldn’t. So Ted, one could conclude you wouldn’t drink it, but I don’t know you that well, and maybe you would, so I won’t jump to that conclusion. I also won’t jump to that conclusion because in your article you say rotenone is “a short-lived, easily neutralized, organic poison rendered from tropical plants.” Plus, what did you call the rest of us who think rotenone is a dangerous chemical? Oh yes, you said we are
“chemophobic environmentalists, who refuse to learn about it.” So, that being said, who knows what YOU would do. I won’t dare jump to any conclusions about that. I just know that I wouldn’t drink it.
This being said, the fact is the animals will drink it and will use that water because it’s there and they need it. They have no choice. So, to make myself perfectly clear, I don’t think dumping rotenone or any poison into waters in a pristine wilderness, especially a national park, is the answer to saving endangered species, as it endangers all species including us.

As for all your other conclusions I kindly advise you to check the facts before making incorrect conclusions. Just because you “conclude” something doesn’t mean it is correct. You should know that as a writer, and if you do, you didn’t practice it very well in your comment to me.

So, getting back to the real issue. For anyone reading these comments I ask that you please make your voice heard, whatever your opinion is on the issue of rotenone in Yellowstone to your members of congress and the National Park Service of Yellowstone. There is a great article in the March/April 2014 issue of the magazine American Angler called “The Yellowstone Mandate”, by Jessica McGlothlin that informs readers of both sides of this important issue. Also, I posted a link below that lists the rivers slated to be poisoned with rotenone in Yellowstone these coming summers. It can be found in Jackson Hole News and Guides. Article is titled, “Trout targeted in plan to restore native fish”, by Mike Koshmrl.
http://e-edition.jhnewsandg[…]e-fish-21082013029017.shtml

Also two other links below from other High Country News writers.

Rare Native Fish Found In Utah, Then Poisoned By Mistake, by Jeff Rice
https://www.hcn.org/issues/48/1483/print_view

Wilderness Isn’t A Fish Farm, by George Nickas
http://www.hcn.org/wotr/14783/print_view

This is all I have to say on this matter in this comment board.

I will not be responding further, regardless of any further remarks or “conclusions”.
Ted Williams
Ted Williams Subscriber
Mar 15, 2014 07:43 PM
Lorie:
Your statement: “I do NOT support the use of poison to save [endangered species] because science has proven poison isn’t selective.” So you’re all in favor of saving creatures like the Paiute cutthroat trout, the Westslope cutthroat trout, the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, the fluvial Arctic grayling, and the myriad endangered species threatened by invasive plants…. You’re just against the ONLY tools available for saving them because, as you correctly note, all poisons are non-selective. Okaaaay…. And to back up this nonsense you offer a harangue from, of all people, the chemophobe who runs Wilderness Watch, who thinks fish don’t count because he can’t see them and who hasn’t even bothered to read the Wilderness Act.

Read this. Maybe you’ll learn something: http://www.flyrodreel.com/[…]/ann-and-nancy-war
Dale Lockwood
Dale Lockwood Subscriber
Mar 16, 2014 07:35 AM
I have seen rotenone work and after a certain amount of time there is zero trace left over from its use. I have noticed how the local human residents 99% of the time were pleased with the results. Ted Williams is 100% right in supporting its use.
We should be more worried about habitat degradation and why we got in this situation in the first place.
Todd Wilkinson
Todd Wilkinson Subscriber
Mar 17, 2014 09:20 AM
Folks: the bottom line is that, in an age of climate change, difficult decisions must be made to save native species, particularly if we all agree and recognize that natives play vital niche roles in determining whether the rich web of life persists in its complicated form or unravels and leaves us with a planet of non-native weeds. A fish is not just a fish. Natives matter. Ted Williams is one of America's finest environmental writers. He tells things like they are and is courageous enough to state the unsavory realities of issues that make some people feel uncomfortable. Do we want to preserve native species or not, and if we do then restoration of compromised ecosystems is our only hope. As unappetizing as the use of rotenone is for some people, it is the only tool that works and science shows its negative effects are ephemeral (short lasting). I too have written about it, poured over the best available science, and arrive at the same conclusions as my colleague Ted Williams. I also refer to rotenone in my new book, "Last Stand: Ted Turner's Quest to Save a Troubled Planet" in which rotenone was successfully used to eradicate non-native fish from dozens of miles of a waterway in order to establish an unprecedented refugia for imperiled westslope cutthroat trout on Turner's ranch in Montana, the Flying D. A committed environmentalist whose foundation has supported over 3500 different conservation organizations, Turner himself was initially skeptical but was won over by facts. The incredible amount of added knowledge that was yielded has helped perfect the application of rotenone at other proposed projects. Was it controversial? Yes. It survived court challenges based the credibility of peer-reviewed science and in southwest Montana was supported by a wide range of environmental/conservation organizations. Any segments of the aquatic community that were impacted during the short span of rotenone treatment have recovered. The American Fisheries Society, no slouch when it comes to defending the science of aquatic ecosystems, highlighted the project and gave the architects who designed it (Carter Kruse of the Turner Endangered Species Fund, Pat Clancy of the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Department and others) one of the highest awards for professionalism. I would encourage the opponents of rotenone to have a look at what successful treatment looks like on the ground and to visit with those who designed the projects. They are all forthcoming and have nothing to hide.
Denver Bryan
Denver Bryan Subscriber
Mar 17, 2014 10:21 AM
Ted William’s HCN article, ‘When Poisoning Is The Solution’ presented a good overview of the situation facing one particular threatened species ( Paiute cutthroat trout) and the onerous delays some groups were able to put in place to hinder recovery efforts. After reading comments critical of Mr. William’s reporting, I’m struck by the naiveté of some of these obstruction-oriented folks. While their efforts are probably well-intentioned, they appear totally unable or unwilling to see the bigger picture and instead choose to selectively apply only ‘pieces of the science’ when trying to make their case. Sometimes they sound more like a branch of the HSUS than a credible environmental group. Fortunately, they weren’t successful in their efforts here. Unfortunately, the time-consuming and expensive delays that such groups often bring about prevent good conservation work from being done in a timely manner.

   
Ted Williams
Ted Williams Subscriber
Mar 17, 2014 01:06 PM
Thanks Todd: I consider Ted Turner one of the major environmental heroes of our generation.
What I find even more discouraging than the ignorance of the chemophobes is the ignorance of sportsmen. The westslope cutthroat is endangered in fact, if not by official decree. But the most ambitious westslope-restoration project ever proposed was derailed for years by a sportsmen-endorsed property-rights group called the Public Lands Access Association. The group's president, Bill Fairhurst, threatened to sue the state in federal court on the grounds that it would "pollute" public water with the rotenone (any antimycin) with which it planned to remove the brook trout, rainbows, and hybrid cutthroats that infested 77 miles of Upper Cherry Creek, in southwest Montana. What really bugged the association and its allies was that 85 percent of the project area is owned by Ted Turner (who wound up picking up the cost). Like the previous owner, Turner doesn't invite the public onto his land, although the Montana access law permits anglers to wade Cherry Creek.
When Fly Rod & Reel magazine, where I serve as conservation editor, recognized Turner's commitment to native trout by making him its Angler of the Year, we got the biggest blizzard of nastygrams we've seen in our 35-year history. I had "a political agenda," I'd done it for money, I was a "snot nose," a "moron," a "nasty bully," a "nature Nazi," an acolyte of "Hanoi Jane," an espouser of "vitriolic leftist environmentalism." "I see your magazine is lining up lock-step with the wild-animal-rights fly-fishing crowd that Left Wing Ted [Turner] leads and which appears to be taking over the leadership of Trout Unlimited and the Federation of Fly Fishers . . ." wrote one reader. "I am completely opposed to the wild-at-any-cost perspective of this left-wing animal-rights crowd and to wit will . . . politically align myself with anti-wild-fish groups and politicians." All this despite the fact that I have NOTHING to do with selecting the angler of the year.
Preserving Cherry Creek's alien and mongrel trout was the priority of most readers we heard from. The fishing was already good so why change species? Anglers had been programmed by Outdoor Life magazine which attacked the project with an article rife with misinformation entitled "Playing God on Cherry Creek." Then, in a grotesque mime of fairness, the editors invited readers to vote for or against making Cherry Creek a sanctuary for westslope cutthroats. Surprise, surprise: 98 percent voiced opposition.
During the alleged pollution of upper Cherry Creek with rotenone (which the Western Environmental Law Center and the crackpots it represented say kills everything in, on, over or near treated water) the managers observed the most sensitive invertebrate in the Cherry Creeek watershed, a species of caddis, happily scavenging poisoned trout.
Doug Pineo
Doug Pineo
Mar 18, 2014 03:28 PM
Here in Washington, rotenone has been used for decades to manage lakes for recreational fishing, mostly for replacing non-native spiny ray, carp and tench (non-native cyprinids), with non-native, plastic hatchery trout. I worked at the current agency's predecessor, and wrote the programmatic EIS for the "lake rehabilitation program". I was always skeptical about rotenone, mostly because no one in Washington was asking about its impact on native fishes, like lacustrine sculpins and red-sided shiners in our scabrock lakes. But, over 4 decades of ongoing participation and scrutiny, I've learned that rotenone does not extirpate sculpins and red-sided shiners from our lakes. Whether the cost is worth the effort in today's super-constrained resource agency budgetary environment remains open for debate. However, as a tool for restoring native biodiversity, for example Paiyute cutthroat trout in Silver King Creek, or yellow-legged frogs in Sierra lakes, rotenone is a legitimate.

I remember well the controversy about removing ALL of the remaining California condors from the wild over 20 years ago, in a last ditch effort to save the species through propagation and release into suitable habitats. Some environmental advocates wanted to let the species wink out "in dignity". Fran Hammerstrom and Rachel Carson have to be looking down from the star road now with smiles on their faces, as wild progeny of released, propagated condors are soaring over the canyons of Arizona and California. About half of all the California condors in the world, (and there are about 10 times as many now as when the last wild birds were brought into captivity) are flying free in the wild. The comparison with using rotenone on behalf of Paiyute cutthroat is that we owe these species a thoughtful but dynamic intervention. We owe them the opportunity to persist and evolve in the changing world.
Edwin Pister
Edwin Pister Subscriber
Mar 18, 2014 03:39 PM
I am a retired California Department of Fish and Wildlife aquatic biologist who has worked since 1959 to recover the California golden trout from the impacts of introduced brown trout. When we first learned of the extent of this brown trout invasion into the South Fork Kern River (where they evolved), the brown trout outnumbered the goldens in a ratio of about 100:1. The goldens (California's state fish) were nearly gone. Happily (from the golden trout's perspective) this recovery was started back in the 1970s before the use of rotenone became so controversial, and I was able to use rotenone to remove brown trout. I can safely say that had I not been able to use rotenone, the California golden trout would now be extinct. I wrote a major paper on this work which is available on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

During this time I was guided by the philosophy of Ben Franklin in 1770:"My rule, in which I have always found satisfaction, is, never to turn aside in public affairs through views of private interest, but to go straight forward in doing what appears to me right at the time, leaving the consequences with Providence." I guess this is where we are now. A colleague in Minnesota, writing on this subject, likened rotenone to being the only tool left in his toolbox to do a very difficult job. One uses it only when one has to and there is no available alternative. At the age of 85, I view the South Fork Kern River brown trout eradication as one of my better conservation achievements. Phil Pister
Ted Williams
Ted Williams Subscriber
Mar 18, 2014 03:52 PM
Doug: I completely agree. While rotenone use for imperiled fish recovery is essential, rotenone use for proliferation of plastic, alien trout is at best a questionable use of resources even when the target fish are also aliens. Maybe it’s defensible; but I’d never defend it. And in the age of ecological illiteracy among fisheries managers rotenone was grossly abused (there’s still plenty of ecological illiteracy among the public and NGOs, as some of the comments here illustrate). Maybe the worst example of past rotenone abuse was the poisoning of native humpback chubs and squawfish in Utah’s Green River to make way for alien trout. But managers have seen the light. Now, in the Colorado River, they are killing the alien trout (though not with rotenone) to make way for humpback chubs and squawfish. Enlightened sportsmen like Trout Unlimited staffers are all for this trout control. Here’s what past TU president Charles Gauvin told me when I wrote about Colorado River trout control for Fly Rod & Reel: “If we fight this, what will we say to Walleyes Unlimited when they complain about some coho recovery program in Oregon? Let's grow up. This is a problem we have to live with in these altered habitats where trout are a mitigation species. If the science is good, what business have we to be complaining about efforts to save a native species?”

Ted Williams
Ted Williams Subscriber
Mar 18, 2014 04:24 PM
Phil: It’s great to hear from you. HCN readers should also know that golden trout are not the only fish you saved from extinction.

On August 18, 1969 Phil Pister held the world's total population of Owens pupfish in two buckets. To save this fish he and his California Fish and Game colleagues had to build a refuge by damming a small stream and rotenoning out the largemouth bass, carp and bluegill. Today that would be politically impossible. Even back then he got a nasty letter from a snail fancier who fretted about snails getting poisoned from the two-acre impoundment. Since then anglers have continually slipped bass back into one of the refuges. They've done it "dozens of times," says Pister. "Each time Fish and Game removes most of the bass with electro-shockers and spear guns, since the impoundment is only about one acre. But it's extremely labor intensive. The local attitude is 'My granddaddy used to catch bass here and by Gawd I'm gonna do it, too.'"

Phil: God bless you for giving these fish back to the world. As I write I am looking at the chapter you wrote in the signed book you gave me: “Battle Against Extinction--Native Fish Management in the American West.” A must read for everyone here.
William L Baker
William L Baker Subscriber
Mar 18, 2014 05:24 PM
Ted, even though I would always side with saving an endangered species, and I understand many of the arguments you are making, there is some moral dilemma involved and considerable sadness that we were faced with this situation. Even if you perceive unfairness or worse in your opponents, the opportunity for unexpected humility and respect from the victor is always an option to consider in these necessary and important conflicts over a messed up world. I see this at times in some notable sports figures, and have to wonder how in these people it may arise.
Ted Williams
Ted Williams Subscriber
Mar 18, 2014 07:59 PM
William:
Plenty of sadness, no “moral dilemma.” And why do you imagine that I or any advocate of imperiled fish are “victors.” Sure, we finally prevailed on Silver King Creek but only after an exhausting, decade-old battle that cost managers hundreds of thousands of dollars and man hours that could have gone into other important fish and wildlife restoration. And the irrational, duplicitous war against rotenone in fisheries management (applied at less than 50 parts per BILLION) is hardly going well elsewhere in the nation. Sorry I can’t muster up “respect” for a law firm and litigants that can consistently lie to the public with statements like: “Unfortunately, the chemical [rotenone] does not just kill the fish in the water but the entire ecosystem, including turtles, snakes, frogs, birds, terrestrials, insects and other animals that live in or drink from the poisoned water.”
Alexander Mensing
Alexander Mensing
Mar 18, 2014 08:03 PM
Wow. The comments section of this article gets at the kinds of divisions that undermine the unity of people with similar good intentions time and time again. I didn't realize there was such a huge debate behind rotenone. My childhood fishing buddy spent a few summers working for the BLM restoring some of the streams where we used to fish on desert camping trips in Nevada. He certainly had mixed feelings about it, but I don't recall him ever noticing any ecosystems being ruined.

I hope that this kind of argument sets of alarm bells in other people's heads, too. Not because of one side or another, but because it's the kind of thing that will keep us from organizing to take care of our earth. Remember, it's the only one we've got.
Dale Lockwood
Dale Lockwood Subscriber
Mar 19, 2014 08:10 AM
As a retired Fisheries and Wildlife biologist when done correctly rotenone can create a positive outcome for the environment and certain fish species and other aquatic species.
 
Mary O'Brien
Mary O'Brien Subscriber
Apr 02, 2014 11:08 AM
In the 1980s I worked 8 years as a staff scientist for Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, always seeking alternatives to the use of pesticides. In nearly all situations in which pesticides are used, there are non-toxic alternatives. However, there were times when I expressed approval of the use of pesticides, knowing all that I had learned re: the myriad ways different classes of pesticides kill living beings. Specifically, my approval to the use of a pesticide extended to when (1) there were no known viable alternatives to address a specific problem; (2) the pesticide was being used to re-set a native system which, with the initial stressors that caused the problem being removed, was going to maintain itself without long-term re-use of pesticides; and (c) the pesticide was not persistent. Having reviewed rotenone and fish restoration literature, I have supported the use of rotenone to restore native fish that are otherwise in a precarious position vis-a-vis extinction.

It is easier to see the temporary set-back of an aquatic system (e.g., through the use of the non-persistent, though toxic rotenone) than to see the slow, often irreversible loss of biodiversity from such activities as human housing encroachment, excessive ungulate browsing/grazing, or springs depletion due to underground mining.

With a track record of having succeeded in allowing for restoration of numerous streams to native fish that were otherwise in serious trouble from non-native fish, use of rotenone seems to be a reasonable action to take.
  
Ted Williams
Ted Williams Subscriber
Apr 02, 2014 05:31 PM
Mary:
Your post lifts the spirits of all of us who work for imperiled fish. That’s exactly what we’ve been trying to get across for all these years--it’s either a quick shot of short-lived organic poison called rotenone or extirpation of imperiled fish. There are almost never alternatives. While I have much respect for Norma, I have had my issues with her and Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides re. opposition to use of herbicides to save millions of acres of wildlife habitat from such invasives as yellow-star thistle. I would be interested to hear your take on the limited use of herbicides along roadsides that I advocated back then in Audubon. What a shame that the injunction stopped it. Now all that habitat is lost forever.
Dale Lockwood
Dale Lockwood Subscriber
Apr 02, 2014 09:13 PM
As a individual who has seen rotenone work in various waters it can turn waters back into a quality habitat and restore native species. Seen a half dozen rotenone treatments on lakes and streams and none had any bad long term effects from rotenone. When used properly it is a great tool.