STATEMENT OF MITCHELL BUTLER,
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY, FISH, WILDLIFE AND PARKS,
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS
OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES
CONCERNING H.R. 3227, TO DIRECT THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR
TO CONTINUE STOCKING FISH IN CERTAIN LAKES
IN THE NORTH CASCADES NATIONAL PARK,
ROSS LAKE NATIONAL RECREATION AREA,
AND LAKE CHELAN NATIONAL RECREATION AREA
April 24, 2008
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to provide the Department of the Interior's views on H.R. 3227, a bill to direct the Secretary of the Interior to continue stocking fish in certain lakes in North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area (hereafter referred to as "North Cascades Complex").
The Department recommends that Congress defer action on H.R. 3227 pending completion of the Mountain Lakes Fishery Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (Plan/EIS). The department believes the results of this NEPA analysis will help inform a balanced legislative process that takes into account the importance of recreational fishing while protecting the aquatic environment in these mountain lakes.
The 2006 Management Policies of the National Park Service (NPS) allow for the management of fish populations when necessary to restore resources to their natural state or reestablish a native species that has been extirpated. Stocking of other plants or animals is also allowed under certain circumstances. Specifically, "In some special situations, the Secretary may stock native or exotic animals for recreational harvesting purposes, but only when such stocking will not unacceptably impact park natural resources or processes and when:
· the stocking is of fish into constructed large reservoirs or other significantly altered large water bodies and the purpose is to provide for recreational fishing; or
· the intent for stocking is a treaty right or expressed in statute, applicable law, or a House or Senate report accompanying a statute.
The Service will not stock waters that are naturally barren of harvested aquatic species."
As such, fish stocking is allowed and will continue to be allowed in reservoir lakes or other highly altered lakes such as Diablo Lake and Gorge Lake.
The National Park Service collectively manages North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area as North Cascades National Park Service Complex. In 1988, Congress designated ninety three percent of the North Cascades as the Stephen Mather Wilderness. All of the 245 mountain lakes in the North Cascades Complex are naturally fishless and 90 of the 91 lakes that have historically been stocked are within the Wilderness area. At the time the Wilderness was designated the Congress did not address the issue of stocking the lakes.
The practice of fish stocking in the North Cascades Complex has been ongoing since the late 1800's, with approximately 91 lakes having been stocked at one time or another during the period from the late 1800's to today. As a result of this stocking, fishing became a popular recreational activity. In 1968 when the proposal to create the park was introduced, concern arose about the continuation of fish stocking. Although the enabling legislation does reference the requirement for a Washington state license while fishing in the park, it is silent regarding fish stocking. Stocking continued after the park was established. However, soon after, the National Park Service policy was changed and it specifically addressed concerns over the ecological impacts of fish stocking in naturally fish free waters concluding that this activity should not occur. Fish stocking was phased out in many national parks across the country in order to restore natural conditions and to preserve native species.
The NPS appreciates the collaborative partnership with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) at North Cascades Complex and throughout the State of Washington. Despite this strong working relationship, a number of challenges have historically arisen when trying to reconcile the missions and policies of the WDFW and NPS on this stocking program. However, multiple attempts have been made to negotiate a mutually acceptable outcome on this issue. For example, the Assistant Secretary of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife and Parks, negotiated an agreement in 1987 whereby the NPS allowed fish stocking to continue in certain lakes while simultaneously conducting research into the ecological impacts of stocking even though NPS policy prohibits the stocking of historically fishless waters because the presence of nonnative fish is a departure from natural conditions. Of the 254 mountain lakes in this area, 154 have not been stocked with fish. A decade of research, conducted in the North Cascades Complex through Oregon State University and the USGS Biological Resources Division, documented that self-sustaining populations of non-native trout can have significant effects on native aquatic organisms such as amphibians and zooplankton. However, in the North Cascades lakes where fish had been stocked in low numbers and could not reproduce, no statistically significant ecological effects to native aquatic species were detected.
In 1991 the National Park Service entered into a Consent Decree wherein NPS agreed to conduct research into the ecological impacts of fish stocking at North Cascades and then to conduct a NEPA review of the fish stocking of naturally fish-free lakes.
In 2003, the NPS in collaboration with WDFW began development of a comprehensive Mountain Lakes Fishery Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement. The purpose of the planning effort was to apply the results of the research and resolve the longstanding conflict over fish stocking in the mountain lakes. The draft Plan/EIS contains a preferred alternative that would stop stocking and remove fish from lakes where significant impacts were occurring (49 lakes) but allow stocking of non-reproducing fish to continue in up to 42 lakes. This plan is still being finalized.
The draft Plan/EIS notes two concerns with allowing fish stocking at North Cascades. First, the NPS has determined that fish stocking in the Stephen T. Mather Wilderness does not meet the minimum requirements analysis conducted under section 4(c) of the Wilderness Act. Second, due attention should be paid to the precedential effect a change in the enabling legislation for the North Cascades Complex to allow for continued fish stocking might have on other NPS units.
The NPS respects the authority of Congress to make exceptions to park management policies. These exceptions should be guided by science and an understanding of the impact that such policy decisions would have on park resources. Should a management alternative that allows for continued stocking be selected through this Plan/EIS decision-making process, implementation of this alternative would require clarification and clear direction from Congress. The Department believes that legislative clarification can best be undertaken when informed by application of the sound science and public input that will ultimately be reflected in the final Record of Decision for the NEPA analysis. We would welcome an opportunity to work with the Committee and the sponsors of this legislation to ensure that the science is accommodated in any legislation resulting from the Plan.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.