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House Approves Measure to Direct North Cascades National Park to Stock Barren Lakes. What Do You Think?


The House of Representatives believes non-native fish should be stocked in high-country lakes, such as Green Lake, in North Cascades National Park. NPS photo.

Should North Cascades National Park be forced to stock non-native fish in high-country lakes that normally would be barren? Apparently the U.S. House of Representatives thinks so. Do you?

This is one of those tough questions that arises from time to time across the National Park System: Should science or political pressure be the guiding hand of national park management? Of course, in this issue there's the additional wild card of tradition. For generations folks have been lugging trout up into the park's high country to stock the lakes, which under normal conditions couldn't sustain a wild fishery because there are not enough nutrients.

The stocking expeditions began late in the 19th century and have been handed down, father to son, father to son (and daughter no doubt), although in recent years the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife has handled the chore.

Now, park managers believe continued stocking with non-native fish species is contrary to their mission to manage the park and its waters unimpaired for the next generation. Bringing the stockings to a halt would not be precedent setting. Indeed, the fact that North Cascades still allows the practice is something of a precedent, as other parks that once stocked fish and actually ran hatcheries -- places like Yellowstone and Yosemite -- long ago did away with those operations. Today North Cascades National Park stands, to the best of Superintendent Chip Jenkins' knowledge, as the last national park with a stocking operation involving non-native fish.

Which brings us to the park's decision to halt the practice. Under a Record of Decision approved in December, park managers on July 1 plan to ban fish stocking in as many as 42 high-country lakes unless Congress intervenes.

Congress is on the verge of intervening. On Tuesday the House passed legislation introduced by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Washington, to direct the Park Service to allow the stockings to continue. A final say awaits the measure in the Senate.


Kurt, you're mixing up the time line on commitments made by NPS officials. The promises in question were made by officials prior to formation of the park in 1969. Park Service officials were specifically asked if fish stocking would continue during the hearings leading up to formation of the park. The conflict between the state of Washington and the NCNP came about in the eighties when the park tried to renege on those promises and stop all stocking.

Unlike the two other National Parks in WA you are required to carry a Washington State fishing license in NCNP.

The preferred alternative in the EIS is Alternative B: continue fish stocking in 42 lakes. When the science determined that low density, non-reproducing fish do not harm native biota that had to become the preferred alternative. But it put the Park Service in a bind because the science determined that a course contrary to national policy was scientifically acceptable. So they called Alternative D (no more fish stocking) the "environmentally preferred alternative." Not because that was what the science said, but because it fit a strictly purist point of view and NPS national policy. And that's all I see in Skip Jenkins' comments.

Rod, I think the EIS, and the sections I pointed to, speak for itself.

As to the Park Service's position, reread Supt. Chip Jenkins' comments and read the NPS's 2006 Management Policies.

1) The NCNP Fisheries Management Plan is based on 12 years of ecological studies. Kurt claims "science, not emotion, should be the driver" while utterly ignoring 200 pages of science in the EIS which do not support his position.

2) The National Park Service has designated Alternative B as their Preferred Alternative. Kurt's statement "park managers believe continued stocking is contrary to their mission" is patently false.

3) Under this preferred alternative, of the 91 lakes, 29 are currently fishless and would remain so, 20 would no longer be stocked and would become fishless, and 42 would continue to be stocked with trout, as they have been for almost a century. Only non-reproducing species will be stocked.

4) This alternative would have no adverse effects on federally or state listed species, or species of special interest, including salamanders, frogs or insects. If further studies find any adverse impact in a lake, stocking would stop.

5) The only reason there is a "no stocking" alternative is that Congress has not given the National Park Service clear authority to either continue or discontinue stocking, so the NPS is explicitly requesting that Congress clarify its authority.

6) Kurt asks "Should science or political pressure be the guiding hand of national park management?" while ignoring the science and advocating uninformed political intervention against the Park Service's preferred alternative. The only one word for this: hypocrisy.

7) Finally, Kurt makes the amazing claim that stocking is "not cost effective" based on Park visitation. Stocking costs the Park nothing; it costs the state only $18,000 per year, paid entirely by permits. Instead, he is advocating a new $3 million unfunded Park program to eliminate these fish. Incredible!

Why does Kurt's article mention none of these facts? Why does it not point readers to the EIS, where they can learn more? His article would have done so if its purpose was to inform and serve NPT readers, rather than to advocate his predetermined opinion.

It is important to realize that our National Park system encompasses an enormous variety of ecological and historical resources, and that "one regulation does not fit all". With NCNP, each of the 91 lakes studied is unique, and the single management prescription Kurt advocates does not fit all. More broadly, it is important for NPT to realize that Park visitors seek a wide variety of experiences, and angling is one such experience valued by many. It is not in conflict with wilderness values; for many hikers and fishermen, it is integral to them. Finally, this Park was created with pre-existing commitments to facilitate continued traditional uses of both Native Americans and Americans, and stocking is one of these. Let NPT be inclusive of all who love our Parks, not exclusive.

- Rod Farlee, member of the Board of Directors, Friends of Olympic NP

Rod, science, not emotion, should be the driver, and it's the science that this story was based upon. The story revolves around the question of whether politics should guide management decisions in the national parks, and that's exactly what is going on with fish stocking in North Cascades NP.

One of the EIS-related documents you cite points out that environmentally preferred alternative calls for fish stocking to be discontinued and also notes that "NPS cannot authorize an activity, in this instance stocking of fish into naturally fishless mountain lake ecosystems, that would derogate the values and purposes for which North Cascades was established, except as may have been or shall be directly and specifically provided by Congress (original emphasis).

Furthermore, according to those EIS documents:

Though recreational fishing is widely regarded as an important and traditional use of wilderness, the role of stocking to create and maintain an artificial fishing opportunity in naturally fishless mountain lakes is viewed by many as an artificial manipulation of both wildness and naturalness. These views are informed by a wide body of scientific research into the impacts of fish stocking, including findings specific to lakes in the North Cascades Complex.

So the science, not emotion, certainly seems to show the best environmental scenario for the 42 lakes would be to do away with the fish stocking. Additionally, North Cascades Superintendent Chip Jenkins pointed out to the Traveler earlier this year that the stocking of non-native fish is against the Park Service's Management Policies:

"Our Park Service Management Policies specifically say that we will not stock non-native species, we will not do anything that is in derogation of the values or the resources of the park unless specifically authorized by Congress," said North Cascades Superintendent Jenkins, who also believes the stocking runs contrary to the National Park Service Organic Act and the Redwoods Act of 1978. "So if this is something that Congress wants us to do, then we need that authority to implement. If we don’t get that authority by July 1, and that’s where I think tension is rising, then we will move to stop the practice."

Delve deeper into the EIS documents and you'll find the following:

Congressional action to allow fish stocking would also honor various verbal commitments in support of stocking that were made by federal officials prior to the establishment of the Complex but never codified in law.

Keep reading the documents and it's not difficult to figure out that those "verbal commitments" stemmed from arm twisting on behalf of Washington state officials. Again, here's a snippet from the collection of EIS documents that holds up that point:

After North Cascades Complex was established, a conflict over fish stocking emerged between the NPS and WDFW. The conflict was driven in part by a state versus federal jurisdictional dispute over fish and wildlife management authority, and by fundamental policy differences: NPS policies prohibited stocking in order to protect native ecosystems; WDFW policies encouraged stocking to enhance fishing opportunities. Early attempts to phase out stocking at North Cascades by park managers were abandoned in the face of strong objections by the state of Washington (emphasis added).

Finally, the documentation shows that there are an estimated 1,000 people a year who head to North Cascades's 65 "fishable lakes, or roughly 15 per lake per year. So on top of the science that goes against fish stocking, you have the economics. Is this a cost-effective program?

The NCNP Mountain Lakes Fishery Management Plan, including the full Environmental Impact Statement and ecological research papers, are available at

It is evident that only one person above, Brian Curtis, has ever read the EIS, and that includes the author of the article above. Should National Park planning decisions to be based on the best available science, or on uninformed emotion? That's an editorial question for NPT.

The fish have been and are stocked by the Washington Trail Blazers.
The website has a document from 2004 with some history:
North Cascades National Park High Lakes Fishery Management (.pdf file)
(more interesting information from the website)

It helps to understand the details of this bill. Of the hundreds of lakes in the park and ninety-some with a history of stocking only 42 would have a continued stocking program. No new lakes would be stocked. This came about as a result of a 12-year study of the effects of stocked fish and a we subsaquent EIS. They found that trout stocked in low densities that cannot reproduce has no measurable effect on native biota including salamanders.

Where harm occurs is in lakes with excessive populations of fish. Typically this happens when trout over-reproduce but excessive stocking can have the same effect. In NCNP they will eliminate reproducing populations and would stock only non-reproducing fish in low numbers.

This isn't being forced on the park. The preferred alternative of the EIS allowed fish stocking but asked for clarification from Congress to continue the practice as was promised during the formation of the park.

What part of "non-native" do some people not understand ? If Mother Nature didn't put it there, man shouldn't. Can't we humans learn from our past mistakes ?

I always heard that one main thing that made man superior to all other mammals (and I wholeheartedly disagree with that statement, by the way) was his ability to take facts and reason with them. Look at all our past mistakes with non-native plants, animals, fish and reptiles. Learn from these mistakes !

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