James Woodcock/The Billings Gazette/AP/File
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks employees Dave Fuller, Chris Wesolek, and Matt Rugg release a pallid sturgeon after taking blood samples from the fish in 2014. Yellowstone officials are poisoning a park stream system to kill the non-native fish before they reach the Lamar River.

Why Yellowstone officials are poisoning its rivers

Yellowstone officials are the most recent to try creative, even drastic, strategies to eliminate non-native fish species from Yellowstone's rivers and streams.

Yellowstone rangers are guardians of America's natural heritage, working tirelessly to protect the human visitors and animals of the country's most famous park.

But later this summer, they will pour poison into a Yellowstone park stream system.

Wildlife officials in lakes and rivers around the country are employing similarly dramatic tactics for killing off unwanted new species as they increase in number, threatening both human activity and the native species they are charged with protecting.

Biologists with Yellowstone National Park will stun and remove the native Yellowstone cutthroat trout from Soda Butte Creek, then fill the creek with rotenone. The poison will kill all of the stream's other inhabitants, especially the other trout species that invaded the park via the stocked streams of Montana's Beartooth Mountains.

Non-native species trouble Yellowstone officials because they grow much larger than the area's other fish, sometimes eating them and harming the native Yellowstone fish.

"The park places a high priority on preservation and recovery of this cutthroat trout population because of its importance in maintaining the integrity of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, arguably the most intact, naturally functioning ecosystem remaining in the continental United States," park officials wrote. "Grizzly bears, bald eagles, and many other avian and terrestrial species use cutthroat trout as an energy source."

Officials will then return the native cutthroat trout to the stream and, if it succeeds, the project will prevent the non-native fish from swimming downstream into the Lamar River. This is Round Two for the brook trout population, which managed to survive a similar poisoning attempt last summer. 

It might seem like a radical solution, but it is not a unique tactic. In Red Hills Desert Garden, an endangered fish sanctuary in Utah, officials are actually draining the park's stream dry to try and kill off its own aquatic invaders, The Spectrum reported. Officials have removed 1,000 illegally introduced goldfish in this year alone.

"The illegally-introduced fish outnumber and out-compete our native and endangered fish," Steve Meismer, the coordinator for the Virgin River Program, told The Spectrum. "We're at a point where the only option is to salvage the desired fish and eliminate the others. It's an unfortunate situation."

They will net and remove fish native to Utah, drain the man-made stream system, and then, as in Yellowstone, poison the remaining fish.

Utah's problem likely began with aquarium-dumping, rather than stocking. Lake Tahoe faces a similar problem, as tiny goldfish let loose in the lake have reproduced freely and grown into 18-inch "monster fish." And in the Great Lakes, these goldfish became so plentiful that fisherman began to catch and sell them at a handsome profit.

"We've been catching 'em forever," Dave DeLong, a Lake Erie commercial fisherman, told Michigan Live. "Now, we're selling 'em. It's just another species we can make a few dollars off."

Many non-native species are not so benign. In the Midwest's river system, a non-native carp first introduced to clean out fish farms in the 1970s has taken over. Officials outside Chicago are catching and netting the Asian carp to keep them out of the Great Lakes while the US Army Corps engineers develop a sophisticated "lock-and-dam" system against them.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Why Yellowstone officials are poisoning its rivers
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today