THE BUZZ: Mining for goldfish

By on September 8, 2015

Kelly Warm Spring may be dosed with poison to rid its non-native inhabitants

Django (Jamie Foxx) bathes in Kelly Warm Spring for a scene in ‘Django Unchained’ shot in February 2012. (Credit: Columbia Pictures)

Django (Jamie Foxx) bathes in Kelly Warm Spring for a scene in ‘Django Unchained’ shot in February 2012. (Credit: Columbia Pictures)

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Grand Teton National Park authorities have wrapped up public comment period for their proposal to eradicate non-native fish from Kelly Warm Spring via poisoning. In consultation with Wyoming Game and Fish, park managers considered alternative measures to remove mostly goldfish from the pond located a mile northeast of Kelly in the national park. Electroshock and netting was on the list, but their preferred method was the use of a piscicide called rotenone – a procedure believed to be safe and the most effective by government officials.

The practice of dumping unwanted goldfish into Kelly Warm Spring has been an ongoing problem since the 1940s, according to park authorities. These fish have been recovered in the pond’s outflow channel, Ditch Creek, and some “have likely made it to the Snake River,” according to park spokespeople.

Environmental groups like the Snake River Fund immediately voiced opposition to the proposal. Executive director Len Carlman urged the public to get involved and asked park resource managers for more information regarding the chemical substance.

“As you’ve surely noted, the presence of words and phrases like ‘piscicide,’ ‘water,’ ‘eradicate the exotic species with minimal harm to native plants and animals,’ and ‘National Park’ in the same GTNP news release has struck a nerve,” Carlman wrote in an email to The Planet. “In light of this, more publicly available scientific information as to why GTNP has determined the application of the piscicide rotenone is desirable appears to be in order.”

Rotenone is banned for use in U.S. coastal waters. In Europe,  it is banned entirely.

Town councilman Jim Stanford tried to motivate his fellow board members to draft a letter of protest to no avail. He suggested netting as a simple and safe alternative to poisoning.

Peter Moyer, an outspoken and active angler in Jackson, has led a campaign against park officials for their eradication of lake and brook trout in Yellowstone lakes and tributaries. And Wilderness Watch is on record as stating, “poison has no place in wilderness.”

So-called chemophobic environmentalists point to the possibility rotenone can inadvertently harm or kill other wildlife including turtles, frogs and possibly birds. They also reference a potential link to rotenone to Parkinson’s disease.

However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has cleared rotenone for use. It has been widely utilized since the 1930s. It is a quickly dissipating poisoning agent that works best on fish by blocking biochemical pathways of cell metabolism. Studies have shown little to no effect on non-targeted species of wildlife or humans.

“Birds and mammals that eat dead fish and drink treated water will not be affected,” the EPA states. However, human consumption of fish killed by rotenone is not recommended.

Rotenone is a naturally occurring substance derived from the roots of tropical plants in the bean and pea family that are found primarily in Malaysia, South America and East Africa. It has been used most recently in Soda Butte Creek in northern Yellowstone National Park to kill brook trout in 28 miles of stream before they could reach the Lamar River.

A statement from Planning and Environmental Compliance officer Carol Cunningham said rotenone poisoning would “likely remove all of the unwanted non-native fish in one treatment,” though additional applications might be necessary. She also said the concentration of the piscicide would not persist in the environment for long or harm groundwater. Numerous studies in California and elsewhere have not shown groundwater infiltration, and breakdown of the chemical occurs in days or weeks at the most. Warm water increases the effectiveness of rotenone and accelerates the breakdown process as well.

“Rotenone is certified organic and is used in a lot of countries and breaks down rapidly, especially when temperatures are warm,” noted GTNP spokesperson Andrew White. Kelly Warm Spring’s outflow, he added, does not make it underground.

As for ties to Parkinson’s, the EPA has deemed results from an Emory University study as misleading. Laboratory rats, the EPA alleges, were “mainlined” with extremely high doses of rotenone. They subsequently developed “Parkinson’s-like tremors.” In a FAQ concerning rotenone, the EPA did admit, “rotenone exposure under certain laboratory conditions could reproduce several symptoms of PD in rodents.” But, it added, “Although rotenone is toxic to the nervous system of insects and fish, commercial rotenone products have presented little hazard to humans over many decades of use and are not considered a cause of PD.”

White said the park service has received almost 50 comments both online and via mail in regards to its rotenone proposal. Park officials have begun sifting through comments and will wait until the end of the week for any snail mail stragglers.

These comments, White noted, will guide the park’s next steps. The application would happen next autumn.

Watch this YouTube video showing numerous goldfish in Kelly Warm Spring: PJH

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