CWC Enstrom speaks out
Killing of non-native fish concerns wildlife commission
Daily Press Writer
GUNNISON — A program to help endangered fish recover in the Colorado and Gunnison rivers came under fire Thursday in Gunnison.
Throughout the summer, the Colorado Division of Wildlife Commission and sport fisherman have expressed concern about killing non-native fish. Bass and other non-native fish were introduced in the region for sport but the species are believed to prey on four endangered fish species.
Colorado Division of Wildlife Commissioner Rick Enstrom led the charge. He believes the program is harming sport fishing on the Western Slope and feels the state is expending an inordinate amount on the recovery efforts.
“We are putting lots of money into shocking the fish, putting them on the banks and leaving them for the raven,” Enstrom said.
Division of Wildlife CFO Steve Cassin said Colorado is a member of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. The organization is a coalition of state and federal agencies and regional power companies. Cassin said the state contributes money to the coalition’s efforts and manages programs within the Department of Natural Resources.
“There are thing we do for those fish that aren’t part of the formal recovery program,” Cassin said.
The program spent $162.1 million between 1988 to 2006 trying to improve endangered fish populations. The state of Colorado contributed about 10 percent of the effort or $15.8 million. Cassin said most of the money was spent on habitat restoration and not killing non-native species.
For its part, the Division of Wildlife spent $460,000 on fish recovery efforts between 2002 and 2006. The majority of the money came from state lottery funds.
Tom Blickensderfer, Colorado Department of Natural Resources Endangered Species Program Manager, said the program and Colorado’s efforts fits with Gov. Bill Owens’ philosophy. Owens wants the state to help improve species’ habitat before they are on the endangered species list.
Blickensderfer said the program has five components and garners strong political support.
“We enjoy tremendous political support in Washington,” he said. “We are known as the fish guys.”
The state is obligated to participate in the program, and there are potential consequences if the effort is reduced, Blickensderfer said. He said the fish ladder at the Redland Dam on the Gunnison River is a fish recover project that has helped in the effort.
“They are moving up the Gunnison and spawning in the Gunnison,” Blickensderfer said.
The state recorded 71 pike minnow, 12 razorback suckers and one bony tail traveling through the ladder. Blickensderfer said the numbers were small and said they were a small percentage of the endangered fish in the Colorado River Basin.
Enstrom said he was skeptical of the program. The state is spending a lot of money and not getting much in return, he said.
“I don’t think we have done our homework ... We haven’t done the biology,” Enstrom said.
He said he recently took a trip to Washington State and spoke with a biologists about Colorado’s fish recovery effort. The biologist expressed reservations about fish moving up the ladder, Enstrom said.
He said the sport fisherman need some compensation for the loss of recreational opportunities.
“Every pond I used to fish when I was a kid is dead,” Enstrom said.
Gary Burton, a biologist with the Western Area Power Administration, said the entire recovery program, including the elimination of non-native species is important, despite the commission’s trepidation about the program.
“Anything dealing with endangered species is never going to be easy, is never going to be cheap and it is always going to be controversial,” Burton said.
Wildlife Chairman Jeffery Crawford said the issue was important to the commission and he praised Enstrom for bringing the topic to the forefront. He acknowledged there was little that the commission could do but said DOW staff could look at re-allocating which money funds the program and explore ways to help improve sport fishing.