Poisoning planned to rid lake of pike

Posted: Friday, March 04, 2005

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — State wildlife officials plan a second attempt in 2007 to poison a Sierra Nevada lake to eradicate voracious nonnative northern pike before the fish can invade other state waters.

But they also will study alternatives — most likely draining the 4,000-acre lake as low as possible — in case environmental studies or legal challenges derail the poisoning plan.

The pike first appeared in Lake Davis in 1994, likely transplanted by an angler from a Midwestern or Canadian lake. Wildlife officials fear the fish could escape or be moved to other waterways, potentially devastating endangered salmon and trout populations all the way to San Francisco Bay.

This time, wildlife managers hope for support from the Plumas County community of Portola that relies on Lake Davis to draw tourists.

And this time, they hope the poisoning plan works. They plan to drain the lake one-third to one-half lower than they did during a failed poisoning attempt in 1997, and to start when the water is warmer. Both should improve the chances of success, Department of Fish and Game spokesman Steve Martarano said Tuesday.

Residents rebelled in 1997, telling wildlife officials they weren't welcome and sending busloads of school children to protest at the state Capitol. The $2 million effort cost the state an additional $9.2 million in reparations to irate residents who still can't use the lake for drinking water. The pike reappeared in 1998, either reintroduced or having survived the poisoning attempt.

''We have looked at every hare-brained and other idea that came in, and they (the pike) just keep coming,'' said Martarano after wildlife officials have since tried shocking, netting, trapping, hooking and even blowing up the toothy fish.

The community's attitude is ''dramatically different'' from 1997, department Director Ryan Broddrick said in a telephone interview Tuesday after he and top aides met with residents Monday to demonstrate their commitment.

''The community was very cohesive in saying we want to eradicate these pike,'' he said. ''The same folks that were carrying signs in '97 were participating.''

The process could affect the lake for three to 10 years, depending how long it takes to refill. And the poison will kill the lake's trout fishery until it can be restocked. The California Bay-Delta Authority has earmarked $2.5 million for the project, but Broddrick said that's only a start, with the final price tag to be determined by the option the department chooses.

The department has agreed to study the economic damage to the community, which some residents want to use to seek compensation from the state, but will also calculate the cost if the pike escape and devastate downstream fisheries, Broddrick said.

''It's important that we present this as an activity that has broad statewide implications and benefits,'' he said.

Residents are anxious to see the details of the agency's plan, said former County Supervisor Fran Roudebush, who chairs the Lake Davis Coalition.

Unlike last time, ''I think we're definitely on the right track as far as working with the community,'' she said. But support varies; many of those who depend on the fishing and tourist industry want to get the problem solved quickly, while homeowners might be more reluctant.

This time, the department will hire an independent consultant to oversee the project and seek a federal environmental review in addition to the study required under state law. Broddrick said he will trigger the yearlong environmental reviews by issuing a formal notice of the department's proposal by April 30.

The department is allowing an additional year for legal challenges and other delays, and to draw down the lake level, though the project could get underway more quickly if obstacles don't appear. There is a relatively narrow window for applying the poison when it will be the most effective, in late summer or early fall when the water is warmest.

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