As Fish and Game works through a lawsuit that could affect fish stocking in mountain lakes in the long term, local Fish and Game crews have been working to balance the needs of native species with the needs of anglers who like to fish lakes in the high Sierra.
At the recent climate conference in Bishop, Curtis Milliron with Fish and Game gave a talk that detailed plans to give the declining mountain yellow-legged frog additional room to live. These frogs, which are a bit smaller then a persons hand, were once common in the Sierra. Biologists have found that one hundred years of planting trout in previously fishless lakes have pushed the frogs off their traditional turf.
The National Parks in the Sierra stopped stocking fish in the 90s, but Fish and Game does still stock mountain waters, Milliron explained. When stocking first started, close to 100% of the high Sierra lakes were fishless, now Milliron reports 90% of the large lakes in the Sierra have self sustaining populations of trout.
In the lakes managed by the state, Milliron explained that the plan is to look for waters that are cut off from viable fisheries (by a waterfall for instance,) and let the native frogs have some space. Its not just frogs that would benefit from more fishless water. Milliron explained that insect life, like mayflies would increase, which in turn benefits bird species.
In region 6, which includes Inyo and Mono along with San Bernardino and Imperial counties, Milliron explained that there are 3134 lakes and ponds. 90% have self sustaining fish populations. In past years, 2-300 of those lakes would be stocked, now 79 of those lakes are stocked, he says.
Of those 3143 lakes, Milliron says that Fish and Game would like to remove trout from 281 lakes. He breaks these down further. It is his belief that trout could be removed from 188 of these lakes, without people shooting at us. A second category would be more controversial. There are 79 lakes in this category. 14 of the lakes that could eventually see trout removal would require chemicals to get rid of the fish.
A total of 540 of the lakes are planned to be managed as a resource for mountain yellow- legged frogs. The emphasis on native species doesn’t just mean frogs, Milliron also detailed recovery plans for native golden trout in the Cottonwood Lakes.
While the lawyers haggle over the future of the state fish hatchery program, Fish and Game staff is already at work to try to restore frog habitat. Over the past 3 years, Fish and Game has worked to remove 14,000 trout from Matlock Lake near Kearsarge Pass. Milliron says that his staff took a lot of flack, for that effort but says that the lake was not a good fishery, producing only 100 fish over 10 inches in length. Since 2006, he says that the frogs have started to move back into Matlock Lake.
How the environmental lawsuit that requires Fish and Game to run the state Hatchery program through the state and federal environmental impact process is yet to be seen. In the meantime, Fish and Game staff continues to work on the plan to balance fishing and frogs in our local mountains.