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New Mexico Creek Spared From Poisoning
(Beyond Pesticides, August 24, 2004)
The New Mexico Game Commission last Wednesday moved to disallow the use of fish poisons as a management tool in Department of Game and Fish (NMG&F) projects aimed at increasing the distribution of native fish, according to The Daily Press.

NMG&F had petitioned the US Forest Service to use the fish poison Fintrol, which contains the chemical antimycin A, within several stream habitats. According to the petition, using the fish poison is necessary to remove trout that genetic studies have determined to be less than pure-strain cutthroats, in order to provide habitat for pure-strain Rio Grande cutthroats from a state fish hatchery. According to The Daily Press, the department planned to poison the streams as many as three times over a two-year period. The project's purpose was threefold: to establish a sports fishery for Rio Grande cutthroats; to study the adaptability of the species; and to provide a source for future transplants to other streams within the historic range of the native trout.

Originally, Fintrol was to be used in Las Animas Creek, Holden Prong, Sid's Prong and Cave Creek by NMG&F in September. After a presentation by NMG&F Chief of Fisheries Mike Sloane, and a public comment period during which private citizens and representatives from state and federal agencies were heard, commissioners voted 3-2 against deployment of the chemical as an acceptable alternative in stream restoration projects in New Mexico, the Daily Press reported. As a result of the decision, NMG&F will be unable to deploy Fintrol in 29 miles of the Las Animas Creek drainage.

During the panel's discussion following public comments, Commission Chairman Guy Riordan said it made no sense "to put poison in clean water." After the vote, Sloane was asked to investigate less invasive measures to protect and re-establish populations of native fish - particularly the Rio Grande cutthroat.

About 90 percent of the subspecies' habitat has been lost, much of it through habitat degradation and competition with nonnative species. A pivotal point in the commission’s discussion on the plan to use Fintrol revolved around New Mexico's "purity standard" for native fish, which was set by NMG&F. Critics of the purity standard say that it is "arbitrary," and is not mandated under the 1973 Endangered Species Act. They point out that instead of introducing poisons to kill non-native species, these fish can be removed through electro-fishing.

While the Rio Grande chapter of the Sierra Club, New Mexico Multiple Chemical Sensitivities Task Force, and local residents spoke out against poisoning the waters, there were those who supported it. Among those in favor of using Fintrol were representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, New Mexico Department of Agriculture, Interstate Stream Commission, the Water Quality Control Commission, and members of Truchas Chapter of Trout Unlimited and New Mexico Trout.

According to the Daily Press, some supporters cited no harmful effects to humans or mammals, or lasting environmental impacts of using fish poisons. But Ann McCampbell, chairwoman of the New Mexico Multiple Chemical Sensitivities Task Force, objected to Fintrol being portrayed as harmless. "It's going to affect macroinvertebrates and amphibians," McCampbell said. In response to charts presented by Sloane indicating biomass in streams returns to near pretreatment levels, McCampbell said there were no pre- and post-treatment surveys to indicate whether individual invertebrate populations make it back to previous levels. She said it is likely entire species are lost, "especially in headwater areas" like Las Animas Creek.

Commissioner Peter Pino, who brought forth the motion to disallow use of the fish toxicant, said he thought using poison in state waters was too extreme. "Water has to be pure," Pino said, citing its use in tribal ceremonies, "I don't fish, but I care for fish and other animals in stream systems. We're not here to be the givers and takers of life."

TAKE ACTION: If you are concerned about a particular chemical that is proposed for use in your own community, that could have negative impacts on your health or environment, voice your opinions! Learn more with Beyond Pesticides’ Community Organizing Fact Sheets, and find out what's going in your state with Beyond Pesticides' State Pages.