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19 Months After Poisoning, Pike Are Back in Lake Davis

May 28, 1999|MARIA L. La GANGA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — Nineteen months after the state poisoned Lake Davis to eradicate the voracious northern pike--destroying all animal life in the lake along with the local water supply--the pike have reappeared.

Two of the nonnative pike--which state biologists fear could threaten the state's fragile salmon fisheries 130 miles away--were caught in Lake Davis this week, causing great consternation in the nearby town of Portola, which is heavily dependent on outdoor tourism.

Agents from the state Department of Fish and Game caught a 19-inch pike Thursday afternoon as they were monitoring the lake for the invasive fish. The first pike found since the lake was poisoned was caught Saturday by a recreational angler.

"We're more devastated than furious," said Plumas County Supervisor Fran Roudebush, who has spent the last several years fighting to stop the 1997 poisoning and helping the region rebound. "It's what we expected to some extent. On the other hand, we were hoping it wouldn't happen."

Lake Davis' travails began five years ago, when pike were found in the waters of the formerly pristine trout fishery 50 miles northwest of Reno. State officials wanted to poison the lake to make sure that the pike did not escape and threaten the native salmon and steelhead trout populations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Local officials, residents and business owners protested, arguing that Portola depended on Lake Davis as a drinking water supply, that businesses relied on fishing and tourism and that the piscicide rotenone could have adverse health effects.

Wildlife officials went ahead and poisoned the lake anyway in October 1997, promising that the chemicals would dissipate in a month. Trace elements of one chemical byproduct were still found nine months later.

Last month, the state reimbursed local governments, property owners and businesses $9.1 million for losses incurred during the poisoning. Portola residents are still not drinking Lake Davis water.

Now, on the eve of the crucial Memorial Day weekend, wildlife agents are trying to figure out how the pike got back in the lake and what to do about it.

The pike could have been planted, which is how state officials believe they got there in the first place in the early 1990s. Or they could have lived through the poisoning.

"We're pursuing every means to determine the origin of the fish," said senior fishery biologist Nick Villa. "What we first have to determine is do we have a population of fish that, if left unmanaged, can reproduce on us. Or have they already reproduced?"

The worst-case scenario is if the fish have already spawned, Villa said. If so, "we have a situation that could be out of control. We don't know that yet. We have to do everything in our power to determine that."

Until the pikes' origin is determined--along with their reproductive status and the size of the population--fish and game officials cannot say what they will do about the reappearance.

Another chemical treatment is "a remote possibility," Villa said, adding that any decision will be made this time in concert with residents and local officials.

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