Poisoning the Gibbon River - Yellowstone Park

mikemac1

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Although it is not well-known, the infinite wisdom of Yellowstone fishery biologists has sometimes been a bit strange. In 1893 they stocked bass in the Gibbon (unknown whether they were smallmouth or largemouth). In the early 1900s, they put largemouth bass in Goose and Feather lakes (Firehole drainage). And in a real act of folly, in 1908 they dropped 7000 Atlantic salmon into Yellowstone Lake. Thankfully none of these introductions survived (although the Gibbon would be an interesting smallie stream). As a consequence of the Goose Lake introductions, Yellow Perch showed up there and survived until the late 1930s when they were poisoned out. I wish the biologists had more sway in advocating the extirpation of clueless tourists who don’t follow the rules.
 

trev

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The parks system was founded on making the unusual bits of nature available to all through tourism. They have never been motivated by preservation or there would be no fishing in the Parks, no staying overnight in the parks, no private vehicles in the Parks, the system was designed to send every visitor home with a piece of the petrified tree and dinner of endangered fish. No one cared about preservation or the environment until the late 1900s, it was all about "reclaiming" of lands that weren't lost and exploitation of nature resources. The average tourist still doesn't care, they just want the T-shirt that says "been there".
All fish are non-native above the falls; all of them. The cutthroat are no more native there than the yellow perch were, they are just the preferred flavor of the day. There is some pressure today from a noisy segment of the public that is clamoring for "restoring" fish to places where nature never intended fish to live and all the government agencies are trying to please those consumers.
Now tourism is a funny thing when we consider a federal park, it is "owned" equally by all citizens of the country regardless of where they reside; all who go to the park are visitors for the moment and therefore "tourists" during that visit. It doesn't make anyone less a tourist just because they had to travel 10 miles to see the Park rather than 1000 miles. Residents of any state in which a Park is located have no more ownership of the Park than a citizen from the farthermost point in the country, although they often assume they do.
 

stenacron

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I don't believe that the decision to use poisons to "reset" a river or lake is taken lightly by fisheries managers. I doubt that many of us are fans of this approach, but it is far from a new idea. There are decades of data showing that alternate methods almost always result in the invasive species reclaiming the watershed.

I had never heard of Rotenone before moving to Utah back in 2010 and was initially shocked to learn that this was being employed. As I researched the cases however and watched on-going efforts to use it to remove invasive species and restore native populations I have come to the point where I don't even question it anymore... and I'm the biggest "tree hugger" you'll ever find.

Two Utah cases that always come to mind when I see/here the word "Rotenone"...

Strawberry Reservoir - our largest alpine lake (reservoir) and one of the West's premiere Cutthroat fisheries was treated with Rotenone TWICE in the past to erase invasive rough species. One of which was the largest single usage of Rotenone ever (used 1/3 of the global supply IIRC).

More recently, Rotenone was used to eliminate Rainbows and Browns from Mill Creek and the native Bonneville Cutthroat Trout population has been restored and appears to be thriving.

I would encourage everyone to do their own research, but Rotenone has proved to be not only precise and easily neutralized but also a widely-accepted and highly-effective fisheries management tool for quite some time.
 

mandotrout

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The parks system was founded on making the unusual bits of nature available to all through tourism. They have never been motivated by preservation or there would be no fishing in the Parks, no staying overnight in the parks, no private vehicles in the Parks, the system was designed to send every visitor home with a piece of the petrified tree and dinner of endangered fish. No one cared about preservation or the environment until the late 1900s, it was all about "reclaiming" of lands that weren't lost and exploitation of nature resources. The average tourist still doesn't care, they just want the T-shirt that says "been there".
There is some pressure today from a noisy segment of the public that is clamoring for "restoring" fish to places where nature never intended fish to live and all the government agencies are trying to please those consumers.
Now tourism is a funny thing when we consider a federal park, it is "owned" equally by all citizens of the country regardless of where they reside; all who go to the park are visitors for the moment and therefore "tourists" during that visit. It doesn't make anyone less a tourist just because they had to travel 10 miles to see the Park rather than 1000 miles. Residents of any state in which a Park is located have no more ownership of the Park than a citizen from the farthermost point in the country, although they often assume they do.
Perhaps some facts are in order:

Here is a summary of the relevant points of the Yellowstone Act of 1872:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the tract of land in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming, lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River...is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people...

...said public park shall be under the exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior, whose duty it shall be, as soon as practicable, to make and publish such rules and regulations as he may deem necessary or proper for the care and management of the same. Such regulations shall provide for the preservation, from injury or spoliation, of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities, or wonders within said park, and their retention in their natural condition...He shall provide against the wanton destruction of the fish and game found within said park, and against their capture or destruction for the purposes of merchandise or profit.


Then there is the Organic Act of 1916 establishing the National Park Service, which says:

The service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations hereinafter specified by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments, and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations...

That the Secretary of the Interior shall make and publish such rules and regulations as he may deem necessary or proper for he use and management of the parks, monuments, and reservations under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service...He may also, upon terms and conditions to be fixed by him, sell or dispose of timber in those cases where in his judgment the cutting of such timber is required in order to control the attacks of insects or diseases or otherwise conserve the scenery or the natural or historic objects in any such park, monument, or reservation. He may also provide in his discretion for the destruction of such animals and of such plant life as may be detrimental to the use of any of said parks, monuments, or reservations. He may also grant privileges, leases, and permits for the use of land for the accommodation of visitors in the various parks, monuments, or other reservations herein provided for, but for periods not exceeding twenty years; and no natural curiosities, wonders, or objects of interest shall be leased, rented, or granted to anyone on such terms as to interfere with free access to them by the public:


It seems clear that as far back as 1872, the primary purpose of the parks has always been preservation while accommodating public visitation in such a way that it would allow enjoyment, without threatening preservation/conservation.
 

0bie

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How do you know that? How do you know that any cutthroat trout will survive there, how do you know they will reproduce? how do you know that there won't be consequences for poisoning a river? How do you know all the insect life and terrestrials will come back? How do you know it won't affect the firehole?
Well hey, how do we know there's some undescribed aquatic organism, endemic only to the upper Gibbon, impervious to predation by non-native trout but which will blink out the moment rotenone is applied? The trouble with that approach as a policy is you wind up sacrificing like westslope cutts on behalf of unknown species which may never have existed in the first place.

We know there isn't a difference in water quality or aquatic habitat between upper and lower Gibbon, they just couldn't get up the falls. We know brookies are more sensitive than cutts when it comes to water quality, and they've done fine in the upper Gibbon. Beyond that, we can't say with certainty what'll happen if cutts are moved up there. That's alright. Every day we wake up, get in a car, and drive to work...not knowing with certainty we'll ever make it open. The next day, we do it again. We're comfortable acting with imperfect knowledge, we do it every day.

With the epic amount of failures in fisheries can you be sure of anything? Are our rivers and lakes aquariums?
There are invaluable lessons in our successes, too. All those gigantic Lahontan cutthroats out in Pyramid Lake wouldn't exist if someone hadn't huffed them up above a barrier fall. Paiute cutthroat are in the same boat. Our rivers and lakes are not aquariums, but rivers and lakes within national park boundaries are expressly designated for the protection of native wildlife. I think they should be managed in accordance with their mission.

Why did`nt they stock cutthroat trout in there first? worried about survival rates? thought other species of trout would be a safer bet?
That's a whole thread in itself, and I'm sure a couple good books have been written about it. An Entirely Synthetic Fish is a good start. The easy answer is the way folks managed fisheries in the early 20th century was completely different. People fished for food. Wild, native cutthroat populations couldn't handle intense harvest pressure. The solution was hatcheries. Early fisheries biologists from the east and west coast were FAR more familiar with raising browns, brookies, and rainbows, they'd been doing it for decades, they had it down. We didn't figure out how to raise cutthroats until much later in the 20th century, and we're still not great at it. If every Yellowstone angler in 1920 expects to carry home a stringer heavy with fish and all you can produce is browns, brookies, and rainbows, guess what you're going to stock...
 

Unknownflyman

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Well hey, how do we know there's some undescribed aquatic organism, endemic only to the upper Gibbon, impervious to predation by non-native trout but which will blink out the moment rotenone is applied? The trouble with that approach as a policy is you wind up sacrificing like westslope cutts on behalf of unknown species which may never have existed in the first place.

We know there isn't a difference in water quality or aquatic habitat between upper and lower Gibbon, they just couldn't get up the falls. We know brookies are more sensitive than cutts when it comes to water quality, and they've done fine in the upper Gibbon. Beyond that, we can't say with certainty what'll happen if cutts are moved up there. That's alright. Every day we wake up, get in a car, and drive to work...not knowing with certainty we'll ever make it open. The next day, we do it again. We're comfortable acting with imperfect knowledge, we do it every day.



There are invaluable lessons in our successes, too. All those gigantic Lahontan cutthroats out in Pyramid Lake wouldn't exist if someone hadn't huffed them up above a barrier fall. Paiute cutthroat are in the same boat. Our rivers and lakes are not aquariums, but rivers and lakes within national park boundaries are expressly designated for the protection of native wildlife. I think they should be managed in accordance with their mission.



That's a whole thread in itself, and I'm sure a couple good books have been written about it. An Entirely Synthetic Fish is a good start. The easy answer is the way folks managed fisheries in the early 20th century was completely different. People fished for food. Wild, native cutthroat populations couldn't handle intense harvest pressure. The solution was hatcheries. Early fisheries biologists from the east and west coast were FAR more familiar with raising browns, brookies, and rainbows, they'd been doing it for decades, they had it down. We didn't figure out how to raise cutthroats until much later in the 20th century, and we're still not great at it. If every Yellowstone angler in 1920 expects to carry home a stringer heavy with fish and all you can produce is browns, brookies, and rainbows, guess what you're going to stock...
I guess we will see what happens. Have a good day Obie!
 

stenacron

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I dont get it, the want to kill off non native fish and restore native fish to a section of river that was historically fish less.
In this case I think it's about preservation of a species and not necessarily a restoration project. Westslope Cutts and Grayling while "native" to the region were not (at least in modern record) "present" in this particular section of the Gibbon River. Although they were present in the lower stretches at one time (just an assumption on my part).

Just speculation on my part, but fisheries managers may have long term goals of establishing isolated, naturally reproducing populations for use as brood stock to supply restoration efforts in other waters. This was done in Utah with the (native) Bonneville Cutthroat.
 

Unknownflyman

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In this case I think it's about preservation of a species and not necessarily a restoration project. Westslope Cutts and Grayling while "native" to the region were not (at least in modern record) "present" in this particular section of the Gibbon River. Although they were present in the lower stretches at one time (just an assumption on my part).

Just speculation on my part, but fisheries managers may have long term goals of establishing isolated, naturally reproducing populations for use as brood stock to supply restoration efforts in other waters. This was done in Utah with the (native) Bonneville Cutthroat.
Yes restore may have been a poor choice in words I dont know, but yes I typed the question as well before as to some higher purpose for the project like hoping the fish would do well and venture downstream, so perhaps restore could be right. Ive only fished the lower Gibbon maybe someday I`ll hit the upper for native cutthroat.
 

prmike307

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I've talked by email with the YNP fisheries biologist in charge of the restoration in the Gibbon drainage. They are planting native fish (westslope cutts and fluvial grayling) above the barrier to "stockpile" them so to speak as a stronghold population as climate change advances. Read about it in Craig Mathews' Clayton Molinero's updated edition of The Yellowstone Fly-Fishing Guide.

And yes the biologist reports people catching westslopes and fluvial grayling in the Madison.
 
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hiplainsdrifter

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And some non native browns will migrate in and dine at ease on the gormless stocker "natives" introduced. They will have to be restocked ad infinitum to produce viable, long term, "native' strains.

Is there no end to 'expert' foolishness or tax dollars?.

Most restoration projects are largely funded by people who care, like TU, WNTI, etc. The viability and purity of the released hatchery strains are indeed critical for restoration, but repeated stockings "ad infinitum" are not a viable strategy for restoration, and it pretty much doesn't happen. I suggest educating yourself on these complex issues. If you prefer to just catch exotic brookies and browns while on vacation, there's still plenty of streams for that. In fact, native trout streams, restored or endemic, are by far the exception these days. I agree that historically fishless waters shouldn't be a priority for cutthroat restoration projects, but the thing is, water flows downhill. You gotta kill off the fish above if you want them gone below too. Also, sometimes historically fishless streams are the only places with barriers in place so other species don't get back in.
 
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