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Old 11-17-2011, 02:28 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Talking Green vs. Green

Spineless vs Errr . . . hopefully tax payers won’t have to fund it much longer with the markup passage of H.R. 1996 today. Let's keep our fingers crossed and letters of support for H.R. 1996 "flying".


MARKLEEVILLE, Calif.—North America's rarest trout has human allies who want to give it back its ancestral home.

But the fish face an obstacle to their homecoming: bug advocates.

Federal and state game officials want to restore the Paiute cutthroat trout to the range scientists believe it occupied for many millennia—a nine-mile stretch of the Silver King Creek in the Sierra Nevada wilderness.

Yet there are also bugs in those waters—bugs that insect advocates say will be threatened by the fish fans' proposal.

The result has been a war of words and court challenges between fish allies and bug allies.

"They're nutty people," says ichthyologist Robert Behnke, a retired Colorado State University professor and expert on North American trout who calls the bug advocates "obstructionists."

Opponents allege the trout plan is a plot by anglers who just want to fish for rare species. "Part of the project is to expand the population of fish so they can fish for them," says Nancy Erman, a retired University of California at Davis insect researcher who raised early objections to the proposal. Ms. Erman studied caddis flies, whose larvae live in cocoons of stream-bed debris.

"It's a fishing agenda cloaked in environmental language," says Ann McCampbell, a Santa Fe physician who sued the federal government over the plan.

A bug's life could be endangered by the plan, there's little argument about that. A toxin called rotenone would first exterminate non-native fish from the nine-mile creek section—an idea that rankles some local anglers—under a proposal by state and federal biologists.

State officials say it would hurt individual insects, but not the population at large. Bug people say it could massacre caddis and stone flies and other invertebrates.

"There's a lot of evidence of the Sierra Nevada being one of the world's great centers of endemic invertebrates," says Pete Frost, a lawyer for the insect camp.

There are no known rare bugs in the area, says Bill Somer, a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game who has been visiting the creek for more than 20 years as part of efforts to restore the Paiute trout. Mr. Somer has overseen the use of rotenone in several other cases around the state where biologists killed non-native fish and reintroduced native trout.

The Paiute trout's ancestry traces to about 10,000 years ago, he says, when waterfalls cut off part of Silver King Creek.

Trapped in a nine-mile section between two waterfalls, Mr. Somer says the trout developed into a distinct subspecies. Unlike the cutthroat trout in nearby waterways, the Paiute trout has no spots and has an iridescent sheen that can appear purplish.

Loggers and Basque shepherds noticed over a century ago that Silver King Creek's trout were different from other trout, historical records show.

Above Silver King's upper waterfall, the creek was fishless, Mr. Somer says. In 1912, a young shepherd named Joe Jaunsaras wanted to fish the fishless upper creek, historical records show, so he carried some Paiute trout up in a can. The fish still exist in that upper stretch of the creek.

He unwittingly saved the Paiute trout from extinction, says Mr. Somer. State officials later put other trout species into the Paiute trout's old home. The more-aggressive new fish ate some Paiute trout and hybridized with others. By the 1940s, Paiute trout were gone from the nine-mile stretch of creek.

There are now fewer than 2,000 adult Paiute trout, Mr. Somer says. The fish has been classified as "threatened" on the federal Endangered Species List since 1975.

California's fish and game department started working on plans to restore the Paiute trout to their old range in the 1990s.

Then Ms. Erman, the bug researcher, found out. At a water conference in Las Vegas around 2000, someone—she doesn't remember who—mentioned a plan to use the rotenone toxin in Silver King Creek. Ms. Erman says she knew there were few studies on whether that would kill rare insects. She talked to others who were skeptical of using poisons in the wilderness.

Ms. Erman came to believe that angling enthusiasts were driving the plan at the expense of other species.

Mr. Somer of the state fish and game department says a recreational Paiute fishery could be a "benefit" of a successful restoration, though he says the creek may never open to fishing.

The department has created a "Heritage Trout Challenge" program in which it awards certificates to anglers who can prove, through photos, that they caught six of California's 11 native trout varieties in their natural habitats. (The upper stretch of Silver King Creek is closed to fishing to protect Paiute trout.)

Ms. Erman joined forces with environmental lawyers, who in 2003 sued in federal court to stop the trout plan because of their concerns over using rotenone. The suit delayed the plan, but state officials got it back on track until Ms. Erman and her allies in 2004 successfully lobbied a water board near Silver King Creek to halt the plan. The state water board overturned the decision.

The following year Ms. Erman's allies at Californians for Alternatives to Toxics filed new state and federal suits. They won a federal judgment forcing the state to modify the Paiute trout plan by doing more studies.

The trout plan was again on track in 2010, when the state and federal agencies completed final reports in preparation of poisoning the creek.

But a wet winter caused delays and the insect allies kept litigating. In September, U.S. District Judge Frank Damrell issued an injunction on the plan, in part because it "left native invertebrate species out of the balance."

The plan, wrote the judge, was "failing to consider the potential extinction of native invertebrate species."

Mr. Somer says the state is still hoping to find a way to restore the trout. "I never dreamed they'd drag it out this long," he says. "I really thought that within my career we'd have the fish restored."

Bug advocates hailed the pro-bug ruling as a victory for under-appreciated animals. Insects need special protection because they don't generate much sympathy, lacking the appeal of more alluring animals like trout, says Mr. Frost, the anti-toxin lawyer.

"Invertebrates aren't sexy megafauna," he says.

Write to Justin Scheck at

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