Groups Challenge Poisoning of Wild Stream


     SACRAMENTO (CN) - There environmental groups say the federal government's plan to poison a wild creek to kill nonnative, stocked trout in Northern California is ecologically "unacceptable." Californians for Alternatives to Toxics sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its plan to poison Silver King Creek in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. The agency says it is doing it to restore the Paiute cutthroat trout.
     But the environmentalists say the poisoning with rotenone would violate numerous environmental laws. The USFWS wants to use rotenone on 11 miles of the stream in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.
     Rotenone interferes with aquatic animals' oxygen absorption, indiscriminately killing fish, amphibians and insects. During past poisonings of Silver Creek with rotenone, some insect species were wiped out entirely, the groups say.
     This has impacts up the food chain, since birds such as the yellow warbler and willow flycatcher and amphibians such as the mountain yellow-legged frog and Yosemite toad lose a major food source.
     There is no complete inventory of macroinvertebrate species in the creek, so there is a "high probability" that rare or endemic species will be lost due to the poisoning, the groups claim.
     And though the California Department of Fish and Game wants to kill the rainbow trout it stocked as game fish, it plans to continue the stocking program in downstream waters "hydrologically connected" to the area of focus, the environmentalists say.
     Waterfalls may not act as a complete barrier to the upper, Paiute-inhabited reaches, especially during high water, the groups say. Plus, the plan does not address the possibility of a "bucket biologist" manually restocking the upper reaches with rainbow trout.
     The poisoning would take place up to twice a year for two to three years. The environmental impact statement has not examined the full cost of potentially lost species, not to mention health risks, the groups say - despite a link between rotenone and Parkinson's disease.
     An alternative to poisoning, involving physically removing the fish by electrofishing and gill netting, was arbitrarily eliminated despite a high likelihood of being effective over a period of 10 years, the plaintiffs say.
     Plaintiffs include Wilderness Watch, The Friends of Silver King Creek, and two individuals. They ask the Federal Court to set aside the final environmental impact statement and the environmental impact report for the Paiute cutthroat trout restoration project.
     Their lead counsel is Julia Olson with Wild Earth Advocates of Eugene, Ore.