On Oct. 23, Cody Byrne from the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) updated the Humboldt County Board of Commissioners on a project to eradicate non-native brook trout from the lower portion of Falls Canyon Creek.
The resulting discussion illustrated the tension surrounding wildlife conservation and water rights.
According to Byrne, NDOW sent a request to the Bureau of Land Management in spring to treat the lower portion of Falls Canyon Creek with rotenone, effectively killing all fish and insects.
NDOW wants to prevent brook trout from moving upstream of the waterfall into threatened Lahontan Cutthroat Trout (LCT) territory.
The Forest Service issued a categorical exclusion for the treatment project, and the BLM issued a determination of NEPA adequacy, meaning the treatment could go forward without the usual NEPA process. Without a NEPA process, there is no formal opportunity for public comment.
The BLM received an appeal to their decision. Treatment was postponed pending the BLM’s appeal process, and now awaits favorable environmental conditions. Since Rotenone only works on hatched fish, NDOW has to wait until eggs have hatched in order to treat the creek.
Commissioner Jim French asked if Byrne anticipated brook trout from Horse Creek repopulating the treated portion of Falls Canyon Creek once the treatment concluded. Byrne said it wasn’t likely.
Byrne explained that he couldn’t find documentation of authorized brook trout stocking in that portion of the creek. He speculated that the fish could have been illegally stocked in the creek, or entered from another creek during a temporary confluence.
Commissioner Ron Cerri expressed his concerns that the Falls Canyon Creek treatment could lead to a “bigger plan.” He said when NDOW first talked about reintroducing LCT to the streams in the area, stream users didn’t like it. Creeks containing LCT have specific regulations that can negatively impact users like ranchers.
Since the streams connect for a period of time, Cerri wondered if NDOW planned to treat the creek every year. Byrne said no.
Edward Bartell, who has water easements in the area to be treated, voiced his concerns and views about the project and the presence of LCT. He said NDOW had a policy of “sticking a fish in every creek,” and that the LCT were not native to Falls Canyon Creek.
“It’s extremely alarming that whenever ranchers want to go put in a water trough or anything, it takes an act of congress,” he said. He was concerned about the lack of public involvement and notice for the projects. He said no one has provided analysis indicating that the LCT were native in Falls Canyon Creek.
On another property Bartell owned with live water, he said NDOW received permission to poison the creek, but he received no notice of it, and the documentation clearly stated that his private land was involved in the treatment. He didn’t learn about the treatment until afterward.
“If it’s going to affect our permit or our private land, we are required to receive notice through NEPA,” Bartell said.
“We need some real protections that they aren’t going to try and aggressively regulate us once they get these fish in, precisely what happened to us previously,” Bartell concluded. “We’re reasonable people, but we need some real protections.”
Byrne said that while several topics have emerged in meetings regarding LCT management none have moved beyond discussion. “We do not have any further plans to conduct any Rotenone treatments associated with LCT recovery in the Santa Rosas other than the Falls Canyon Creek treatment project.”
French said the point of the species management plan for LCT in Humboldt County was to prevent the fish from being listed as endangered, which would get the federal government involved. Cerri said it was important ensure public involvement if the species plan changed.