Alpine fish kill hits federal legal snag

Just hours before California state officials planned to begin poisoning an Alpine County stream, a federal judge issued a last-minute restraining order.

U.S. District Court Judge Frank Damrell will revisit the issue Tuesday in Sacramento, this time looking at an injunction against the poisoning.

Damrell issued a restraining order last Tuesday afternoon, putting a temporary hold on plans by California Fish and Game and U.S. Forest Service officialsto apply rotenone Wednesday morning to kill all the fish in approximately 11 miles of Silver King Creek and its tributaries. A neutralizer applied within two or three years would make the waterway habitable to plant Paiute cutthroat trout, a threatened species, into the stream.

Environmental groups Californians for Alternatives to Toxics and Wilderness Watch along with South Lake Tahoe resident Laurel Ames and Ann McCampbell, a Santa Fe, N.M., physician, filed suit against the poisoning project.

The case challenges the Forest Service's environmental assessment on the project, according to Ames.

The Forest Service has until 5 p.m. Monday to submit evidence to be used during arguments. Plaintiffs have until noon today.

About 35 Fish and Game and Forest Service officials entered the wilderness area south of Lake Tahoe on Saturday to prepare for the project.

According to California Department of Fish and Game spokesman Steve Martarano, it is a 7-mile hike into Silver King Creek below Llewellyn Falls where the poisoning was planned.

"We're not giving up," Martarano said. "The project was stopped on time. Part of the problem is the Forest Service hadn't conducted the proper NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) requirements. We're leaving about five people out there. We had literally tons of equipment in there."

Ames, 58, said the crews had been too optimistic about the outcome of the hearing.

"They jumped the gun," said Ames. "There was an assumption on their part that they would prevail."

-- Jo Rafferty can be reached at or 782-5121, ext. 213.


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