More On Rotenone And Trout
As part of the Conservation Agreement and Strategy for Colorado River Cutthroat Trout (CRCT) in Utah, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) requested permission from the Ashley National Forest to use rotenone, a chemical that deprives gill breathers of oxygen, and antimycin, an antibiotic which kills fish, on a number of eastern Uintas streams (Reader Creek, N. Fork Ashley, Dry Fork, Manns Creek, Little Brush Creek, W. F. Carter Creek) to kill nonnative fisheries, remove the few pure strain natives that exist in each stream, detoxify the streams and restock them with native CRCT.
While it sounds good on the surface, and much of it is, the project (still in the scoping stage) is filled with meaningful holes in ecosystem management and common sense.
A phenomenal opportunity and one of deep irony, however, is being missed for what, at best, is a piecemeal proposal built on a short term response to preserving CRCT. Rather than focusing on the High Uintas Wilderness (HUW) and surrounding roadless lands (Dry Fork and Reader Creek and W. Fork Carter Creek are part of the massive roadless area surrounding the HUW) where, in every sense, there exists a strong direction to manage for indigenous species and natural processes and where the undeniably best opportunities exist to preserve, enhance and manage wild, indigenous fisheries, the analysis looks outside of the wilderness.
Clearly part of this oversight is due to the short term, expedient nature of the proposal. To restore any ecosystem requires a great deal of care, vision and time. Restoring the native, wild fisheries back to the Uintas or appropriate portions of the Uintas will take a considerable amount of effort. It will be accomplished by determining goals, objectives and long term vision and methods to implement those goals. All are lacking in this proposal. We should begin by looking seriously at the CRCT Yellowstone Refugia that were first proposed by the Utah Wilderness Association and now pursued by the High Uintas Preservation Council (see HUPC Review, 8/97). And of course, this must be followed, first and foremost, by a complete and immediate termination of recreational based, "hook and cook," nonnative fish stocking in all wilderness lakes and streams. This will require a broad and bold step forward by both the Forest Service and UDWR.
This UDWR proposal has all of the dilemmas typical of short term projects. The problem has been created by the management practices of UDWR with the concurrence of the Forest Service by allowing introduction of nonindigenous fisheries and not managing the complex stream/ lake systems for their array of native aquatic species.
If we've learned anything, rotenone and antimycin treatments are a short term solution-reaction. Without altering the root management paradigms, the obvious question exists--how many times will these stream segments be treated every year, every 5 years, every 10 years? Since the headwater lakes were void of fisheries, but are now stocked with brookies, they too will be poisoned and re-stocked with both wild and hatchery- raised CRCT. Since these lakes have already suffered a loss of native fauna due to competition with fish, it is ecologically inappropriate to stock them. We are returning to an artificial, human- produced, recreational fisheries!
Without a comprehensive set of inventories of amphibians, particularly the boreal toad, and macroinvertebrates, how will the project be monitored properly? Meaningful inventories of native fisheries, macroinvertebrates and amphibians are essential. Will hatchery raised cutthroat trout be stocked in these treated areas to maintain a sport fishery? This poses a serious problem for the wild CRCT.
The complexity of these streams with numerous wetlands, beaver dams, muskrat dens, proposed lengths for treatment and high elevations all play a constraining role in the success of rotenone and antimycin. The recovery rates of macroinvertebrates in these high elevations are also of concern as are the effects and success of the neutralization chemicals.
Uintah Basin conservationists have raised serious questions with respect to the use of rotenone in municipal water supplies, something overlooked in Utah for decades.
Ironically, no discussion of biodiversity or ecosystem management is included. The Forest Service s responsibility is far greater that poisoning streams for UDWR!
We enthusiastically support the preservation and recovery of CRCT. Consistently we have urged the Forest Service and UDWR to respond to the ever increasing dilemma presented by constant nonindigenous recreational- based fish stocking in the back country, particularly within the HUW, by basing the direction on sound ecological principles, ecosystem management and meaningful wilderness management.
While that opportunity will be a huge challenge, it is finally right in front of us. It may well be important to proceed with this proposal but not without a substantial long term ecological plan--not a future promise. Without that vision, saving a few fish here and there will not assist the survival of this wild trout.