Fish and Game gives go-ahead to fish in Lake Davis

State officials, once maligned in Plumas County as the outsiders who invaded Portola and destroyed the local economy in a quest to rid Lake Davis of pike, are getting a gentler reception this time around. This time, they’re the good guys.

After a four-month restriction, the California Department of Fish and Game lifted its public-safety closure of Lake Davis on Jan. 18, announcing that trout will be plentiful when the season opens on April 28. The move was applauded by locals, who have long been skeptical of the state’s eradication efforts.

Authorities closed the lake, located 7 miles from Portola, on Sept. 4, 2007, after the discovery of a growing population of non-native northern pike, a toothy game fish suspected to have been illegally planted in 1994 by rogue fishermen. State officials said the northern pike pose a threat to native wildlife, the agricultural interests of the state, and public health. Fish and Game officials feared the voracious pike would get into the state’s river system and destroy the trout population.

In Lake Davis, DFG officials said the predatory fish devastated the local trout fishery, causing ecological and economic harm. In its report, the DFG said the impact of the pike on economic resources was a “loss in economic value of recreation, drop in property value, water supply cost and benefits, and statewide economic effect due to reduced commercial and recreational fishing.”

The man-made lake was created in 1967 for recreational activities. Sometime in 1994, the pike were likely introduced into one of the three main tributaries that feed into it. In 1997, the DFG attempted eradication, but the pike reappeared two years later. A spokesman for DFG said he didn’t know whether the pike had survived the chemical treatment or if it was reintroduced.

In the report, “Managing Northern Pike in Lake Davis: a Plan for Y2000,” drafted by the Save Lake Davis Task Forces Steering Committee and the DFG, 13 different management activities were considered, ranging from the use of net barriers and electrofishing to increasing enforcement activities and improving public education.

According to Randy Kelly, DFG project manager, “there were a bunch of ideas that weren’t realistic or workable.” After various trials of the different recommendations, the only proven method of reducing populations of pike is the use of rotenone, a naturally occurring tropical plant compound, harmless in small doses to humans but lethal to fish when it enters their bloodstream through the gills.

DFG used rotenone to treat the lake last September. The procedure was far different than in 1997. That year, the attempt to eradicate the northern pike was completed in less than a week, angering local opponents who said the DFG hadn’t sufficiently studied the issue.

“A lot of folks just didn’t want us to be there,” said Joe Johnson, an environmental scientist who worked on the 1997 eradication.

This time, Kelly said, “two and a half years were spent surveying (the lake).” If DFG had missed any pike last time, this time “there was more time and coordination” put into the process.

Jerry Dollard, who sat on the Save Lake Davis Task Force Steering Committee, called the change in reaction from 1997 to 2000 the “difference between day and night.

“People gained trust in DFG because they took the time to talk to people. By and large, the public accepted fact that something had to be done and the best option was treating the lake with rotenone.”

Johnson found that through working with the local community, DFG faced less opposition. “We made a lot of mistakes in ’97, and we corrected them in 2000,” he said.

Fran Roudebush, former county supervisor and admittedly a longtime skeptic of the Department of Fish and Game, said, “DFG’s attitude last time was ‘We’re here, we’re going to do this, and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ Now they are working with us rather than against us.”

Furthermore, DFG, through constant surveillance and public education, is working to ensure that the northern pike will not be reintroduced.

“There’s still pessimism as to whether this will work,” said Roudebush. “I think the community is obviously hopeful because I don’t think we can ever go through this again.”   

On Jan. 18, the Department of Public Health confirmed no detectable levels of chemicals in Lake Davis.

Last month, more than 31,000 Eagle Lake trout from its American River Hatchery were planted in the lake. Nearly 1 million trout are due to be planted later this year. Although frozen, Lake Davis is currently open to the public.

“Lake Davis is still the top still water fishery in the United States,” said Dollard. “By year’s end we should have a million fish. We expect a real boom to tourism and our economy.”

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