A decade ago, fisheries and wildlife expert Ed Pert was back in Virginia earning a Ph.D and following the national news coverage of the California Fish and Game Department’s controversial efforts to rid Lake Davis of the rapacious pike. “I remember thinking, that’s a tough project,” Pert recalled.
Now Pert, 44, is in the middle of the same project–treating Lake Davis with rotenone in order to kill the pike, which state Fish and Game officials say poses a serious threat to the state’s native trout population.
Pert is the project manager of the Lake Davis operation. In effect, he is the ground commander of some 500 Fish and Game personnel who will spend most of September treating the lake and its tributaries in the latest–and most comprehensive–attempt to eliminate the pike. In some areas, the Midwest for example, the ever-hungry pike is a prized fighting fish. In California, however, the pike is viewed as a threat capable of eating its way through the state’s trout and bass populations, crippling fisheries and discouraging anglers who come from around the world to fish in California’s rivers.
Pert seems the ideal choice to lead the effort. With a bachelor’s degree from Humboldt State, Pert served in the state Fish and Game Department’s Wild Trout Project. He later went to UC Berkeley for a Master’s in Wildlife Resource Sciences, emphasizing fisheries, and then went east to Virginia Tech for his doctoral work. “Too much education” he joked.
But when the possibility of returning to California opened up, Pert jumped at the chance. He liked working in California, he and his wife have family in California and the fisheries challenges were profound. “I feel I was lucky to get back here,” he said.
This time around, things hopefully will go better than in the 1990s, Pert said.
“Certainly, it’s infinitely better now. We’ve done a lot of outreach work to really gauge the true feelings of the locals. There is a big middle ground of people who want something to be done,” said Pert, who lives in Sacramento with his wife and two young children.
“Look, nobody likes the idea of putting a bunch of chemicals into the lake, and that includes me. But people recognize that we have a problem. We are still battling what happened in 1997, and some people don’t trust the Department to do the right thing. But we want to be as open and honest as possible. We are still finding the Ghost of 1997 Past dealing with all the inadvertent slipups.”
One big dfference between now and 1997 is that Lake Davis is no longer Portola’s drinking supply. Another is that the community is on the verge of getting a new water treatment facility. A third is that the state is engaged in a comprehensive water testing program. “We’ve had the benefit of at least 1,400 samples from local wells, and none has turned up positive.”
“If the pike get established, it will definitely have a debilitating effect on California,” Pert added. “If they do well, they’ll eat most of the fish species. They’ll eat everything and then they’ll eat themselves. The landscape of California would be changed.”