December 13, 2011

California Budget Crisis and the Future of the Aerial Fish Stocking Program

For years, the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) has used a 1981 Beech King Air airplane to stock backcountry lakes. This aircraft has been specially modified to conduct these stocking operations and is apparently the only aircraft in the state capable of carrying out this task. The Sacramento Bee recently reported that in an effort to cut state spending, California Governor Jerry Brown has proposed reducing the vehicle fleet owned by the CDFG, and the King Air is on the list of vehicles to be auctioned off (link). The CDFG is petitioning to keep vehicles that represent special circumstances, and I'd be surprised if the King Air was not included in that petition. So, this story is still unfolding, but if the King Air is auctioned off it could end the CDFG aerial stocking program. 

This issue is of particular interest to me because I've been critical of the CDFGs aerial stocking program for some time, because of its history of poor oversight and shaky justification. For example, there are numerous examples of the wrong lakes being stocked. With today's sophisticated navigational instruments, it seems hard to imagine how this could happen. In reality, the aerial stocking program does not take advantage of these navigational advances, and still utilizes a rudimentary and error-prone method of identifying the target lakes. Mistakes can have disastrous consequences for species such as the imperiled mountain yellow-legged frog and are simply unacceptable. Second, in a paper published in 2004 we showed that of the hundreds of backcountry lakes being stocked in the central and southern Sierra Nevada, 70% actually contained self-sustaining trout populations and did not need to be stocked to provide recreational fisheries. By stocking these lakes, the CDFG was wasting scarce dollars that could have been used much more effectively elsewhere.

Fortunately, the CDFG has improved the scientific underpinnings of their aerial fish stocking program in recent years, but those changes have raised further questions. Most importantly, the CDFG has dramatically reduced the number of lakes being stocked, in part to eliminate the unnecessary stocking of lakes that contained self-sustaining trout populations and also to reduce impacts to native species. With this reduced number of stocking localities, the cost per lake of stocking has undoubtedly sky-rocketed because the underlying costs (including that of the King Air) remain unchanged. Does it really require a multi-million dollar airplane to stock a handful of backcountry lakes? Maybe the action of putting the stocking plane on the State's auction block will force the CDFG to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of their aerial stocking program. 

This could get interesting.

Back to The Mountain Yellow-legged Frog Site.