February 17, 2010

Déjà Vu - Lawsuits Filed Against DFG Over Fish Stocking Document

The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) released their court-mandated fish stocking EIR-EIS on January 11, 2010. In response, at least two groups (and I've heard rumor of a third) have filed separate court petitions against the DFG. The Center for Biological Diversity petition focuses broadly on a wide variety of deficiencies in the EIR-EIS, including a flawed baseline against which environmental impacts were judged, failure to include an adequate range of alternatives, and the failure to adopt reasonable mitigation measures. The Owens Valley Committee petition focuses more specifically on groundwater withdrawals that supply two fish hatcheries in the Owens Valley and the failure of the EIR-EIS to adequately mitigate the associated impacts.

And so the legal wrangling begins anew. The DFGs strategy on fish stocking -related CEQA issues has always been to frame the issue as narrowly as possible. For years, that meant denying that fish stocking was subject to CEQA. They got away with that for 35 years. When an environmental group with sufficient guts (Center for Biological Diversity) finally called the DFG bluff and sued them in court, the DFG arguments were finally revealed for what they were - a house of cards. But unable to abandon their tired strategy, the EIR-EIS was written as a defense of the current fish stocking program instead as a thorough evaluation of the environmental impacts the program has caused. This failure reeks of a DFG leadership unwilling to take the inevitable political and public flak and lead. 

The DFG public response to the petitions so far has been a predictable plaintive whimper of "but we've already spent so much money on the EIR-EIS". Instead of complaining about how much money the EIR-EIS process is costing, the DFG should realize for once and for all that hijacking the CEQA process to justify a pre-ordained conclusion will not fly. Perhaps someone within the DFG will raise the obvious point that many of the complaints raised in the recently-filed court petitions were also raised by the DFG-appointed EIR-EIS Scientific Advisory Team. Those concerns were summarily dismissed by the DFG but are now coming back to haunt them.

Back to The Mountain Yellow-legged Frog Site.


  1. ok, i have some questions, which i have no clue about. What do these legal wranglings halt?

    Does it stop the stocking?

    Does it stop any attempt to restore habit for MYLF or other species?

    What isn't stopped while we wait on the court?

  2. Hi Russ. We won't know what interim measures the Court will impose until the judge makes preliminary decisions on the petitions. If he finds that the petitions have merit, during resolution of the petitions he could allow current fish stocking to continue as per the EIR-EIS or he could require that all fish stocking be suspended until a new settlement is reached (or something in between these two options). The EIR-EIS is specifically about the impacts of fish stocking, so the Court decisions would only affect fish stocking activities.

  3. Would it make biological sense (and be a legal option) to prohibit stocking greater than some arbitrary distance from the closest trailhead (1 mile, 5 miles, etc)? When I helped survey MYLF populations as part of the SN Framework Project, we rarely observed fishing in lakes greater than 1 mile from a trailhead. This could avoid some of the political backlash while protecting the majority of frog habitats.

  4. Hi Lisa. Thanks for your thoughts on this. Given that most backcountry lakes don't even need to be stocked to maintain recreational fisheries, I'd argue for a complete halt to backcountry stocking. That is what Sequoia-Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks did two decades ago and those parks continue to provide excellent fishing opportunities and also have the most intact native aquatic faunas of any place in the Sierra Nevada. The California Dept. of Fish and Game will be very resistant to this, however, so the best we can hope for is likely to be watershed-based aquatic management plans that specify which waters will be managed as fisheries (some of these would require stocking) and which will be managed for native species.

  5. I'm not sure it's so much about distance from the trailhead that defines either a great fishing lake or a great frog habitat. I'm sure some fishermen have great lakes well off the beaten path, which maybe they visit once a year and they don't advertise to the general public, and some of those basins would also be great frog habitat. Lisa, you wouldn't see them unless you happened to be there at the same time they were there. They still have a right to visit and enjoy their form of recreation. I'd agree with the halt on stocking in the backcountry.

    I guess the part that is missing for me is the data behind which basins are really, really great for the frog restoration. If i could see that, as a fisherman, would probably say, ok, this makes sense to preserve the native species and eco-diversity in that area.

    Of course, for the self-sustainable trout lakes, i would have to consider the trade-off of frog and fish; If it's really shown to be recoverable and great habitat to restore, it should be considered a good candidate. Yet another area for discussion in potential trade-offs.

  6. Russ, I think it is much more complex than that. I fish a lot and find the qualitative experience is not regularly coupled with the quantitative. "Good" trout water is in the eyes of the beholder.

    "Good" frog water may be easier to define. There is room for both fish and frogs, but the frogs and the ecosystem that surrounds them deserve the best rooms.

  7. Ralph,

    I completely agree that bio-diversity should take precedence. If "Good" frog water is easier to define, I'd like to see the data on those basins. I'm guessing some of that data was behind picking the lakes that Yose and Seki chose. In other words, name the best basins necessary for restoration, and make it public. I'm hoping this comes out in Yose and Seki's EIS statments on aquatic restoration; they've made a great start. The rest of California, I don't know what'll happen as the USFS and CDFG seems somewhat aloof.

  8. Russ- I agree that my sample of backcountry lakes wasn't complete, but over 2 summers I visited probably 200 lakes, ranging from glorified puddles to dozens of acres... on all days of the week... and ranging from those accessible from a parking lot on a major road to lakes which were a 14 mile hike from the nearest trailhead. I saw a few dozen fisherpeople, and only 1 who was more than 2 miles from the trailhead. I also saw hundreds of hikers who did not appear to be carrying fishing poles. It gave me the impression that the segment of the population who has interest in backcountry trout fishing is much smaller than the number of people who fish near major roads. The majority of individuals who spend time in the backcountry will not be affected by any change in stocking (regardless of whether stocking actually has a positive effect on trout populations). The political clout of people in favor of back-country stocking seems disproportional to the presence of fisherpeople in the backcountry. The supposed right of this small minority to pursue their hobby should not outweigh the scientific consensus that frogs are threatened by stocking.

  9. Let me be clear. I do not support stocking in the backcountry lakes. I do want any fish removal for research or ongoing efforts to be published to the public (either NPS, USFS or CDFG) for public comment and review.

    I'm all for restoration where it makes sense, based on the scientific data. From what i've read, the frogs need linked basins in which to move around. If that is true, that's the data I would like to see in deciding the efficacy of restoration.

    I would also prefer frogs not be put back in known barren lakes that had no frogs in the first place; Given fish in general were not native, that's a different discussion. If the basin is good for restoration, I'm all for it. Public announcement before removal of fish is basically what i want.