Mono County may not have fish stocked in some key area waters this year due to an environmental fight over the willow flycatcher.
The outlook for the June Lake loop, Mammoth’s Lakes Basin and Convict Lake is uncertain for 2010.
The fight is between the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Pacific Rivers Council over a lawsuit filed in 2006 by the CBD to get the DFG to complete its environmental impact report (EIR) on hatchery trout and the impacts the fish might have on other wildlife.
DFG completed its EIR in January, but with the April 24 opening of trout season in the Eastern Sierra fast approaching, the CBD angled to use the willow flycatcher, a rare bird listed by the state in 1990 as an Endangered Species, to block the stocking of rainbow trout in waters where the birds nest in nearby habitat. The CBD contends that the trout compete with the flycatcher for the same insect food sources. The DFG must now respond with studies on stocking trout and the birds’ survival and nesting.
Convict Lake president and general manager Brian Balarsky sent a letter of appeal to the DFG, asking for the lake to be cleared by April 24. Convict, Balarsky said, is usually ice-free for the season opener, and the monetary hit he’s potentially facing could be severe, with 27 cabins, three houses and 88 U.S. Forest Service campsites all sold out for the opener.
As of two weeks ago, only Crowley Lake had made it onto DFG’s Region 6 release clearance list (Bridgeport Reservoir was cleared last week). The DFG has reportedly accelerated studies of its stocking waters. As of Tuesday morning, 28 waters had been cleared for stocking, including Convict Creek. Not on the list — as least not yet — is Convict Lake, or backcountry lakes accessible via the Convict Lake trailhead.
Dr. Tom Jenkins, a June Lake resident who has degree in Fish Biology, said he’s puzzled by numerous parts of the flycatcher lawsuit.
First, he considers the suit unfair, calling the CBD’s action “outrageous.” Willows, he said are all over Mono County, but only a couple of flycatchers have been noted in the area in the last 10 years. “I’d love to be able to comment on it scientifically. I was hoping to get something at the commission meeting, but I’m still in the dark … There’s no real detail as to the science or methodology. And even if the burden of proof ends up with the DFG, I’m not sure how they’re going to conduct a study with so few of the birds,” he said.
Also puzzling: why some waters, such as those in the June Lake Loop and in the greater Mammoth Lakes area, haven’t been cleared for stocking, as they have been for most of the past 50 years. He’s also perplexed as to what justification the CDB could be using to make case. “Trying to draw a line between the flycatcher and the trout is a very long road,” he opined.
Local fisheries businessman Tim Alpers was critical of the CBD, calling the move “just another wild issue to put a moratorium on stocking trout.”
Following a meeting of the Mono County Fisheries Commission on Monday morning, Tim Hansen, a candidate for Mono County supervisor, said his main concern is that appearances may cause some fisher-folk that would normally have made the trip up here to drop their lines elsewhere. “We’ll still have plenty of fish, but that may not be how it may be perceived.” He’s also clearly agitated by the entire issue, saying he thinks the CDB is over-hyping the competition between the trout and the flycatcher. “How much of this are we supposed to take?” he fired off rhetorically.
Ray Robles, Mono Fisheries Commission Chair, said he thinks it’s important that everyone keep their cool. “The DFG wants to stock the waters, but there is a process and we have to live within that process,” Robles told The Sheet. “On the other hand, you can’t prevent everything and the few flycatchers in Mono County are going to hold up a lot of stuff.”
The flycatcher nesting studies have to be done during the birds’ peak time during June and July. “If the studies are done in a timely manner, it should all work out,” he added. “There may be a couple of bodies that might not get stocked right away, but that won’t stop the world.”
The next Mono Fisheries Commission meeting is set for Monday, May 3, at 10 a.m. in the June Lake Community Center.
Some background came from a story by Ed Zieralski in the San Diego Union Tribune.