The recent killing of 7 miles of Montana’s Cherry Creek, waters NOT targeted for poisoning, will likely become a watershed moment in a project long fraught by an unacceptable brand of “science.”
For the planned project, it seems that best management practices have only been applied to public relations: “poisoning” has been appropriately relabeled “treatment,” “fish migration barriers” are now called “invasive barriers,“ and “killing aquatic ecosystems then restocking with a fish monoculture” is referred to as “native fish restoration.” Sadly, our agency scientists and technicians have become schooled masters of double-speak in a brave new world where “down” means “up.”
Driven by expensive multi-year project budgets and a refreshed zeal to “restore” native fish species, the 60-year-old management practice of poisoning and stocking fish has a conservation buzz these days seemingly untarnished by its severe, lethal and collateral impacts. Here the so-called “acceptable” damages to water quality, insect life, native fish species, and all creatures that depend on this ecosystem for their survival, bled into many miles of unintended water. Thousands of dead fish including those native to the system simply perished in the “accident” and those responsible at Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks don’t know why or how the problem occurred.
Despite this and with the expected Monday morning spin, Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks made it clear that the next phase of poisoning on Cherry Creek will occur on schedule, without pause, and without an assessment of either the unintended impacts or cause(s) for the incident.
Fisheries biologists at the agency need to learn lessons from other resource managers. Invasive species cannot be controlled by ecosystem “sterilization.” Chemicals alone cannot be counted on as a solution to exotics. When environmental accidents occur, environmental assessment and then remediation are the important immediate steps. (Preventing similar environmental accidents in the future is the goal.) Data, science, and humility are your friends. Importantly, the best public relations won’t disguise flawed techniques, failed implementation, or damaged project sites.
It would seem that only hubris could prevent the thorough and careful review of this project’s plans, practices, and procedures. And only the continued unacceptable “science” on Cherry Creek, driven by a confused blend of regulation, politics, and money, could make it all possible.