Rotenone in Yellowstone

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I’m writing my first blog today about something Lorie and I feel very passionately about. This blog is about the National Park Service of Yellowstone putting the poison rotenone in Yellowstone’s pristine waters. Waters that start in our first national park and flow out of our national park into other waters used by the public. This has already happened and will continue for the next three summers. We are very disturbed and concerned about this issue. American Angler has a great article in this issue of March/April 2014 presenting both sides of this issue. I encourage all of you to check it out. Hopefully the article gets people informed and voicing their opinion to the appropriate people. I know this issue has made us speak up. I would like to share my personal story and thoughts on the poisoning of our nation’s pristine waters of Yellowstone with you.

My fishing started in the early 1970’s on small streams in New Mexico. They were family camping trips and we kept every fish we caught. We never thought about letting any fish go, catch and release was foreign to us. 

Older more experienced fishermen would tell us stories about how great the fishing was in the Yellowstone area so we started to read about the rivers and we planned a trip to Yellowstone in 1981. We drove 1000 miles and ended up in West Yellowstone, Montana, which is a fly fishing mecca for fly fishermen.  It was a pilgrimage for us and it forever changed how we fished and thought about fishing.

The fishing regulations were mostly catch and release or there were restrictions on how many fish you could keep. Understanding the idea behind the regulations of catch and release we decided to release all the fish we caught.  As we explored the new region in and around Yellowstone the beautiful scenery, the variety of rivers, and the colors of the beautiful fish got into our souls. How could we kill these wild fish?  We couldn’t. So as we released the great trout we had just worked so hard to land, we wondered if next year we would have the opportunity to catch that same fish that would be even bigger because of the practice of catch and release. Everything we experienced on our first pilgrimage to the Yellowstone region was so special we couldn’t wait to get back the following year. The Montana wilderness and Yellowstone region was such a clean, pristine place. To us, it was a shining example of how a public park should be.  We continued to make the drive every year to experience Yellowstone. To say it rejuvenated us is an understatement. Yellowstone became the place to go because there are so many pristine rivers and lakes with different wild fish. Yellowstone was fly fishing heaven to us. 

In 1989 I moved to West Yellowstone and over the years I have seen an increase in fishermen. I have also seen the regulations become even more restricting. More catch and release areas, barbless hooks, no bait, and all tackle lead free.  I am happy that the managers of the fisheries had the foresight to promote and put these practices into action. We have a tremendous renewable resource that all can enjoy and I want future generations to feel the same way I did when I first saw and fished Yellowstone.

Fast forward to the present time. Now the NPS wants only native species of fish and has resorted to killing non-native fish by means of poison, mandatory kill regulations, and even electro-fishing to remove non-native fish. I don’t understand why this is happening, as it was the NPS of Yellowstone who put those non-native fish in Yellowstone’s waters over 100 years ago. From that point on those fish survived and developed into a population of natural reproducing fish.  How can they poison waters in a pristine national park, the world’s first national park? This poison is not selective, it will kill all fish, insects, and how about the unfortunate animals and birds that use the water and eat the fish and insects. These animals will also drink the water and the birds will swim and bath in it. The food chain is now broken. You can’t add poison to one part of an ecosystem and think it only affects that one part. It isn’t sentimental sentiments when science proves that everything is connected in an ecosystem. Heck, our children are learning that fundamental concept as early as first grade. It disturbs me that the very people in charge of protecting our national narks are adding poison into a pristine ecosystem. No factories are polluting our headwaters of our great rivers, now it is the very people and agency that is supposed to be in charge of protecting it.

Last summer when the NPS poisoned thirty miles of Yellowstone’s Grayling Creek it was a total surprise to many people including myself. I knew there was a project to help Westslope Cutthroat in the very upper reaches of the creek. But poison? There were warning signs posted along the creek near the road not to drink or be exposed to the water. So don’t tell me this poison isn’t dangerous and don’t telI me that it is selective. Here is something else, it is a fact that the NPS does not allow hazardous cargo to travel through the park, even on the 191 highway. So the NPS protects Yellowstone from a possible hazardous cargo spill, but they think it’s a good idea to put poison into Yellowstone’s pristine waters. Seems to me a chemical that kills and needs warning signs is hazardous. A hazardous chemical being put into Yellowstone’s pristine waters on purpose.

Let’s tell the NPS to stop polluting our waters with hazardous chemicals! Let’s tell them to stop killing our fish! Poison and mandatory kill regulations are not the answer. The answer is simple. Manage what you have, whether it is native or non-native, because each are now part of the wild and intact ecosystem. Things change and evolve; you can’t turn back the clock. Poison can’t turn back the clock. All it does is harm and kill everything that comes in contact with it. There is much research on the poison rotenone that is available.  The basics are if you come into any contact with it, it’s dangerous for your health. Just because it has been widely used in the United States doesn’t mean that makes it safe. DDT wasn’t safe and we learned it’s deadly effects much too late. We deserve better for our public lands and pristine public waters and wildlife deserves better too. The waters don’t stop in Yellowstone; this shouldn’t be just a national park decision. Stop the use of poison in our first national park before anymore is put in this summer and summers to follow.

It is the current plan of the NPS of Yellowstone to purposely pollute several of Yellowstone’s waters with poison in the following summers to come.  If you think your favorite creek, river, or lake is safe you may want to ask the NPS. The list of waters slated to be poisoned is long and alarming . This is a sad and disturbing fate for all of us and all the animals that depend on that water if nothing is done to stop it. Poisoning of two creeks has already occurred, but this doesn’t have to be the fate for the rest of Yellowstone’s intact ecosystem and I hope to God it won’t be.

We have already sent out many letters including surrounding states’ congressional members and governors voicing our concern. It is our hope that people will voice their concerns on this important issue before it’s too late for the pristine waters of Yellowstone, the animals, and our environment.

Arrick Swanson