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Supervisors end Yellow-legged frog fight

“Hell would freeze over before I would ever support this project.”
Supervisor Sherrie Thrall
Laura Beaton
Staff Writer

The legal fight to stop the removal of trout from Gold Lake in the Bucks Lake Wilderness is over.
The Board of Supervisors decided at its meeting Aug. 5 to quit trying to persuade the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to rescind its plan to place gill nets and remove the trout in the small mountain lake, declared by CDFW to be critical habitat for the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog.
After nearly an hour of discussion and public input, wherein County Counsel Craig Settlemire said that CDFW had legally met the minimum requirements to proceed with its plan, the supervisors decided to give up the fight. But not without a stinging reply to a July 16 letter sent to the board.
Settlemire said that CDFW filed its trout removal plan with the state Office of Planning and Research in April, meeting the minimum legal requirement.
Because the yellow-legged frog is protected under the Endangered Species Act, no California Environmental Quality Act process was necessary, he added.
Supervisor Sherrie Thrall agreed to end the fight, but made a motion to write a letter to CDFW saying the board did not support this action.
“Hell would freeze over before I would ever support this project,” she said, adding that procedures are already in place that CDFW should have followed. She said the agency should have notified the county of its plans to remove the trout when the decision was first made as well as contacted the local Fish and Game Commission to discuss the project.
Numerous audience members spoke out against the plan; most vocal among them was local Fish and Game Commission board member Ron Horton, who said that CDFW has repeatedly lied about the number of frogs — and other matters, too.
Bob Orange, former game warden with the CDFW, called Fish and Wildlife’s statement that greater numbers of fish were stocked in three other — much larger — lakes disingenuous.
In its letter, CDFW said it stocked many more fish in Bucks Lake, Lake Almanor and Antelope Reservoir than last year. These lakes are accessible by car, foot and boat. The lakes have a total combined surface area of 30,750 acres compared to Gold Lake’s 20 surface acres. Gold Lake is accessible only by foot.
Orange said that in recent years the number of planted fish was significantly reduced; therefore, to make a claim that the allotments of fish were doubled and tripled would necessitate knowing the baseline count of fish planted over the years.
Sheriff Greg Hagwood said it was like comparing apples and oranges to compare stocking fish in Bucks Lake, Lake Almanor and Antelope Reservoir to removing fish from Gold Lake.
“It’s like my neighbor stealing my lawnmower and giving me a weed eater in return,” Hagwood said.
Orange said that the project to use gill nets to remove the fish would never be effective. It didn’t work in Lake Davis, even though they spent $22 million, he said. “It’s like Lake Davis never happened,” Orange said. “There’s a huge lawsuit rolling through the courts right now.”
The letter will be drafted and presented to the board for approval before being sent to CDFW in Sacramento.

CDFW response
Tina Bartlett, the CDFW’s North Central Region manager, didn’t attend the Aug. 5 meeting. However, she sent an email to Supervisor Lori Simpson after watching the meeting online.
Bartlett, who met with Simpson, Supervisor Terry Swofford and County Public Works Director Bob Perreault in Rancho Cordova on July 16, acknowledged the CDFW “could have done a better job communicating with the county” on the project.
Bartlett’s email addressed several points mentioned in the Aug. 5 meeting. She pledged that, in addition to planting greater numbers of fish in the county, CDFW would work more closely with Plumas County.
“I am sincerely committed to better communication with the county about (CDFW) activities in the county,” Bartlett wrote.

Fish and Game meeting
Two days after the supervisors’ meeting, CDFW fisheries biologist Kevin Thomas attended the monthly Fish and Game Commission meeting in Quincy along with Supervisor Simpson.
The local commission has been critical of the CDFW for not being notified of the trout removal plan until after the decision was made and the project was in place.
Commission members reiterated their complaints to Thomas during the two-hour meeting.
Commission member Horton continued to question the CDFW’s research and statistics regarding the frog. He said he was concerned that other lakes and streams besides Gold Lake would be targeted for fish removal.
“The trust factor is nonexistent,” Horton said. “It’s not going to end (with Gold Lake). Pretty soon you will be evaluating streams. Pretty soon we won’t have any fish, and then we won’t have any tourism.”
Thomas said he understood the commission’s frustration. But he added the frog is a federally listed species and the CDFW is mandated to try to protect it.
Thomas said the fish removal, originally scheduled to begin in June, was postponed until sometime after Labor Day. He said part of the reason for the postponement was to allow for a “cooling off” period.
When the removal project does begin, Thomas said wardens would likely be on site to provide protection for the CDFW staff.
“We’ve had threats of physical violence to our folks from residents of Plumas County,” Thomas said. “We have to take that seriously.”

Managing Editor Dan McDonald contributed to this report.

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