NPS proposal: Killing fish, saving frogs


The National Park Service is seeking a permit to administer a pollutant in pristine high-country streams. To that end, a presentation was made in Three Rivers to describe the process.
According to Danny Boiano, aquatic biologist for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, the application of the organic piscicide is necessary as part of a 10-year program: “Restoration of Native Species in High-Elevation Aquatic Systems Plan.” In order for the national parks to use rotenone, park staff must apply for, and be granted, a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
The permit falls under the jurisdiction of the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board. At the April 3 Town Hall meeting in Three Rivers, Alex Mushegan, representing CVRWQCB, and Boiano both attended to outline the permit process and address concerns and answer questions. 
The purpose of the restoration plan, Boiano said, is to reestablish native species in a portion of the high elevation drainages, specifically the endangered mountain yellow-legged frog, and help the ecosystem function more naturally. To accomplish this goal, Boiano and his project team have been removing nonnative trout, a voracious predator of the frog, for the past decade.
Of the 550 lakes and streams within the parks that might furnish habitat for the endangered species, 85 have been targeted for removal of the trout. Of those lakes and streams, two-thirds have or can be treated with electro-fishers that stun the trout so they can be removed and buried.
To date, more than 60,000 fish have been killed, Boiano said. The remaining third of the water-bodies are mostly streams where it’s not feasible to use the electro-fishers. Those niche habitats are where the rotenone is planned to be used. 
Rotenone is a naturally occurring chemical and has been commonly used to eradicate fish. It works by inhibiting cellular respiration. However, as with any chemical, the dose and duration of exposure determine its toxicity. 
Boiano said rotenone is desirable to use because it degrades quickly and does not threaten birds and other species that feed on the decaying fish. In this project, the application is a low level concentration of 50 parts per billion.   
“To eat a dangerous level of the toxin, a bird would have to eat 750 fish in a single day,” Boiano said.  “The high elevation ecosystems are nutrient-poor so the dead fish help replenish nutrients.”
The drafting of the permit is the next step in the process following the completion of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in 2016. To be notified when the tentative NPDES Permit is issued or if you have questions/concerns regarding the permit contact Alex Mushegan at (559) 488-4397 or
—See related story, “Hiking the John Muir Trail-Day 15."     

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