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Local commission opposed to trout-removal plan

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife hopes to preserve yellow-legged frog critical habitat by removing the brook trout from Gold Lake in the Bucks Lake Wilderness Area.
Dan McDonald
Managing Editor

Which came first, the fish or the frog?

In the case of a Plumas County lake, the state says the water belongs to the native frogs. The fish will have to go.

The state’s plan caught the local Fish and Game Commission by surprise earlier this month. And the local board wasn’t happy about it.

The commission’s board members voted unanimously to oppose the California Department of Fish and Wildlife plan designed to protect critical habitat for the mountain yellow-legged frog.

According to CDFW environmental scientist Sarah Mussulman, the brook trout in Gold Lake (located in the Bucks Lake Wilderness Area) are scheduled to be removed with gillnets in late spring or early summer. This Gold Lake is not to be confused with the Gold Lake in the Lakes Basin.

Mussulman said a small population of the yellow-legged frog was discovered in nearby Rock Lake. She said removing the non-native trout — which eat the native frogs — is an attempt to preserve the frog’s critical habitat. She added that Gold Lake represents a rare opportunity to restore the frog population in that area.

The critical habitat for the yellow-legged frog includes more than a million acres across 16 counties in California, including Plumas. The state is trying to get the frog added to the endangered species list.

Brook trout are not native in the western states. They were introduced to the area from the eastern U.S. beginning in the late 1800s. The brook trout — which thrive in higher-altitude lakes — haven’t been stocked in Gold Lake since 1966, according to Mussulman.

But the fish are still there.

“The fish eat the (yellow-legged frog) tadpoles and the frogs,” Mussulman said. “If it’s small enough to fit in a fish’s mouth, a fish will eat it.”

Consequently, Mussulman added, the frogs are rarely found around lakes that have large trout populations.

Mussulman said her High Mountain Lakes program began conducting inventories of fish and amphibians across the Sierra Nevada in 2000. The program began in response to a petition to have the yellow-legged frog listed as endangered.

She said fish-stocking plans have since been adjusted to eliminate conflicts with the frogs. Some lakes got more fish; others get none.


Gold Lake survey

Mussulman said Gold Lake was first surveyed by the High Mountain Lakes program in 2004. She said CDFW crews found three adult mountain yellow-legged frogs.

In 2010, additional data were gathered. The CDFW decided to remove the brook trout to benefit the frog population at Rock Lake and possibly re-establish the frogs at Gold Lake in the process.

Rock Lake has no trout and the two lakes are sometimes linked by a stream during the rainy season.

Mussulman said no other Plumas County lakes have been targeted for trout removal.

“It’s important to keep in mind that this is one single lake we are proposing (to remove the trout from),” she said. “We have every intention to continue stocking in mountain lakes.”


Local opposition

District fisheries biologist Amber Rossi outlined the state’s Gold Lake proposal during the local Fish and Game Commission meeting April 3.

Commission board member Ron Horton said he and the other board members were shocked to hear the news. Horton said the local commission should have been consulted during the process.

“The (CDFW) will tell you they don’t have to consult with us. Maybe legally they don’t,” Horton said. “But how do they feel it’s right to make a decision about our area without at least talking to us? That is arrogance. This is the exact reason we have suspicion of the state and federal governments … because of that kind of attitude.”

Horton said he wasn’t speaking on behalf of the other commissioners. But he said he was worried that other county lakes would be targeted for non-native trout removal if a yellow-legged frog were spotted nearby.

Although brook trout have been in Plumas County for more than 100 years, the only types of trout considered native to the area are rainbow and cutthroat.

Horton added that even some species of rainbow have been re-introduced and aren’t technically considered native. He said, theoretically, those trout could be removed, too.

“If they are considering the brook trout to be non-native, then all brook trout in all streams and all lakes of Plumas County are vulnerable to removal,” Horton said. “If that’s the criteria, where would it stop? I don’t believe it is going to end with Gold Lake.”

Mussulman said that, while it is possible a new population of yellow-legged frog could be discovered locally, it’s not very likely.

She said, “There are almost no (yellow-legged) frogs left” in the county. She noted every lake in the frog’s habitat area (above 5,000 feet) has been thoroughly screened for signs of the frog — some of them as many as four times.

None have been found.

Mussulman added that some frog populations have been found near streams. But she said removing trout isn’t an option in those cases.

Horton said regardless of the state’s decision to remove brook trout from Gold Lake, Plumas County should have had some say about it.

“To have a four-year study and we hear about it a month before it is about to happen … That’s just not right,” he said.

Plumas County Supervisor Lori Simpson said she was concerned about the state’s plan.

“I think it is a drastic measure and would like to know what other alternatives CDFW looked at,” Simpson said. “I will be investigating it further.”

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