IDF&G HURTING SOUTH FORK ANGLER CHANCES
Idaho Fish and Game’s 2021 electroshocking removal goal of 12,000 wild, naturally reproducing cuttbows and rainbows (95% of the rainbow population are hybrid cuttbows) with a potential of up to 20,000 fish, without any plans to replace lost angling opportunities, is completely out of hand and will hurt anglers chances for generations to come. This is an intolerable ongoing practice that started in 2019 with over 5,800 fish electroshocked and removed and upwards of 4,000 removed in the fall of 2020.
The fishing public, including local economies absolutely cannot afford the continued impacts of Idaho fish and games fish population suppression efforts.
What is IDF&G’ s agenda?
Per their website, they purport the practice was needed to protect the Yellowstone Large Spotted Cutthroat populations. In the 1990’s an ESA petition was written to list the Yellowstone Cutthroat.
That petition was denied in 2001 and again declined on appeal in 2006 and subsequently again in 2011. DOA, dead on arrival.
Consequently, 15 years later, they are still operating, on assumption, to avoid any potential ESA listing. According to IDF&G biologist Patrick Kennedy “ To my knowledge, there are no entities attempting to re-petition the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout for listing under the ESA.”
In reality, one argues, the Snake below Palsaides dam would never be included in any future ESA actions and IDF&G need to revisit their outdated management tactics because of the reasons below.
Stocking records in Idaho in the upper Snake River region, dating back to 1890’s, suggest a lengthy and high level of hybridization of stocked rainbows, along with genetically inferior with inferior life history, hatchery Cutthroats. Between 1969 and 1981 alone more than 3.5million hatchery Cutthroats with inferior life histories and genetics were stocked below palisades reservoir. In fact that was enough fish to stock the entire South Fork system 12 times over in only 12 years with inferior hatchery fish.
This has resulted in life history interruptions and sub species interbreeding (Yellowstone Cutthroat cross breeding with Snake River Finespotted) not seen above palisades reservoir.
In the opinion of Dr Robert Benhke in his book (Trout and Salmon of North America 2002) he doubts that “the size of the spots on the finespotted Cutthroat trout became larger at the Wyoming Idaho border.”
Then there is the added bookending effect of the Rainbow rich waters of the Henry’s Fork to the north. Where there are no barriers to impede Rainbow migration from Henry’s Fork into the South Fork.
Then there is Palisades Reservoir and dam to the south where upwards of 2 million hatchery fish are stocked annually.
It is no secret that reservoir fish continually pass through the dam in to the South Fork on a daily basis. It is difficult to deny and mitigate the effects this co mingling effect has on the resident wild trout populations.
In between Palisades reservoir and the confluence of the Henry’s Fork lies a minefield of irrigation canals that effectually remove up to 1/2 of the rivers volume and significant numbers of fish.
In reality, in combination, these influences render the South Fork solely a recreational fishery.
Above Palsaides dam the Federal government and the state of Wyoming recognize and effectively manage the Snake River, Salt and Greys rivers and Palisades reservoir for Snake River Finespotted Cutthroats.
The Snake River Finespotted vs the Yellowstone Cutthroat is an important distinction. Snake River Finespotted, due to their superior life history is behaviorally more aggressive than the Yellowstone Cutthroat, thusly has a higher survival rate.
This allows them to directly compete with rainbows and out compete Yellowstone Cutthroat for habitat and reproductive success. A South Fork Snake River Finespotted centric agenda ultimately makes more sense than a Yellowstone Cutthroat agenda.
It is Idaho F&G’s biological opinion that the subspecies of Cutthroat changes below Palisades dam to Yellowstone Cutthroats.
So one has to ask for what reason and how did IDF&G change the spotting pattern of what was the native trout below Palisades dam?
Clearly it is the influence of 3.5 million hatchery Cutthroats stocked in to the South Fork between 1968-1981 that forever changed cutthroat spotting patterns below Palisades reservoir and not natural evolutionary processes.
Notice the above use of “cutthroats” as a generic description. That is because IDF&G, in their online stocking historical records do the same.
The evidence is clear that angler satisfaction with and perception of IDF&G’s rainbow elimination program is changing and it is not in their favor.
Anglers have absolutely voted their opinion by not choosing to participate in Idaho’s angler incentive rainbow removal program. The South Fork sees 300,000+ annual users and 99% of users have chosen to not participate while less than .20% of the over 300,000+ annual visitors to the South Fork have chosen to participate.
That is a deafening statement of a failed incentive program. And a strong vote to leave the fishery as it is!
As long as Idaho fish and game artificially suppress rainbow/hybrid populations by up to 40%, with out any plans to replace those wild fish removed, the local economies including real estate, shops, restaurants, accommodations and the resulting employment will suffer and will continue to as long as this misguided program is in place.
Time is now for a middle ground to protect the South Fork fishery. And to do what is economically sound for the citizens of Idaho and the anglers who come from near and far to revel in the diverse fishery the South Fork has to offer.
IDF&G through a partnership with anglers and local businesses should consider the following strategies.
• Full spawning and habitat tributary protection including acquiring water rights
• Snake River Finespotted Egg boxes in all of the South Fork tributaries and main river
• Stock South Fork main river and tributaries with Snake River Finespotted to replace the losses due to electro shocking while imprinting beneficial and critical tributary spawning life history.
• Approve only a pure 6 rainbow harvest limit while maintaining a zero Cutthroat harvest.
Idaho’s South Fork of the Snake is the most successfully diverse fishery in the world.
Yes, with common sense management, we can have strong populations of eager dry fly munching Cutthroats, hard charging acrobatic Rainbows and streamer crunching Browns.
It’s that diversity needs to be celebrated and not vilified.
Time is now to come to a middle ground, common sense management solution. It is in the public’s benefit to work with in the strength of diversity that the South Fork is famous for.
To have your voice of opposition heard please go to change.org and search for
Stop Idaho Fish&Game Electrofishing removal of Wild South Fork of the Snake Rainbows
Then sign the petition. It’s that easy!
Your efforts will be rewarded in knowing you’ve made a positive impact on the most successfully diverse fishery in the world!
I completely disagree. We will lose those cutthroat populations eventually but they are our native fish and I vote for preserving them as long as possible. There is no fish as good for fly fishing especially dry as the cutthroat. We owe it to them to try to preserve them. Just my opinion.
“Genetically inferior” and “diversity” are over-used and, ofttimes, misleading terms. Unless the genetics of these fish have been thoroughly tested and researched, how can anyone speak for their (current) viability? And, if a creature that lived in a protected eco-system was being out-competed by artificially introduced conditions or creatures, then diversity wasn’t a good thing for the original creature.
I can see some benefit in the author’s suggested strategies. If genetics is really the issue, then, it would seem the cutthroat with the greater genetic potential to compete within the current conditions – aggressive fish, reservoirs, and climate – should be encouraged. Fish and wildlife got “pure-bred” due to the very specifically controlled environment they live in. If that environment has changed, trying to keep them in revised environmental conditions doesn’t make sense – to me.
As for the article’s title, let’s put this into “real” terms – it isn’t as much about fish & wildlife “management” as it is about legal-defense. Over the past handful of decades, resources that could be utilized for habitat improvement has to be spent on preventing wasteful litigation. The IDF&G, and similar organizations, have had to work (spend) diligently to keep forests, fields and streams open to those of us that participate in these recreational opportunities. The real issue belongs to those organizations that portray an ideology of protection while reaping financially and providing very little.