River Poisoning Comments Needed

November 2002. The Gila National Forest wants to allow the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) to dump poison in 30 miles of Animas Creek and 21 miles of the Gila River to kill introduced non-native trout and then re-stock the streams with native Rio Grande Cutthroat trout. The Rio Grande Cutthroat is not an endangered species, but is a popular sport species among fishermen. Nine miles of the proposed poisoning site on Animas Creek flows through the Aldo Leopold Wilderness, while the entire poisoning site on the Gila River flows through the Gila Wilderness.

The poison antimycin will kill not only the trout, but also all the native macroinvertebrates and amphibians in the streams, including the Chiricahua Leopard Frog which is a federally listed threatened species. The Forest Service makes the dubious claim that any tadpoles that are found will be removed to a safe location prior to the poisoning (yeah, rightS). Other threatened or endangered species in the area include the spotted owl, common black hawk, and bald eagle, which feeds on fish. Directions for applying the poison state that wildlife should be prevented from drinking the water for at least 48 hours, but there is no practical way to prevent this from happening along more than 50 miles of open waterways.

The NMDGF has no staff who are certified pesticide applicators, and stream poisonings conducted elsewhere in New Mexico have resulted in more stream miles being poisoned than were intended. It is not known whether antimycin is a carcinogen, and the Forest Service has not assessed the poison's impact on downstream residents who rely upon wells for their drinking water.

Despite the heavy-handed manipulation of riparian ecosystems and severe impact to numerous native species, the Forest Service states that the proposed poisonings have no negative impact on wilderness qualities. It is both sad and ironic that it was Aldo Leopold who convinced the Forest Service to protect the Gila as our nation's first wilderness in the 1930's - now, it is in danger of being converted to a recreational fish farm.


Art Telles
Gila National Forest Supervisors Office
3005 E. Camino del Bosque
Silver City, NM 88061
(505) 894-6677