The Biggest Victim at the Oregon Malheur Standoff?

Scientists Say Effort to Control Invasive Carp Could Be Set Back Several Years

By Debbie Kay,

No matter what your thoughts on the standoff that happened at the Oregon Malheur Reserve, the invasive carp program was one of the few things everyone could get behind.  A program that was designed to eliminate the carp and employ fishermen and local businesses at the same time has been set back at least three years due to the altercation.  Now, scientists struggle to catch up, having missed the chance to control an important breeding season on the preserve.

The Malheur Standoff

This well-publicized standoff was due to a family of armed ranchers, who, after being issued a bill of more than a million dollars to cover decades of  unpaid fees for grazing on public land, took over the preserve’s main building with firearms.  The intent was to protest Malheurthe ownership of public land by the government, though sentiments for the movement were mixed.  Employees and scientists who worked at the Malheur were told to leave during the standoff, due to the fact that the protesters had firearms, and it was not safe for them to continue going to work as normal.

Carp and the Malheur

Invasive carp in the preserve’s Malheur Lake have been thriving, to the detriment of local birds and fish.  They’re known to muddy the waters so much that the much-needed weeds eaten by migratory ducks and other birds can’t get enough sunlight to grow.  These carp, whose appetites are voracious, have decimated the populations of native fish so much that only a single redband trout was caught during the last fish survey.  Migrating waterfowl, who depend on the food and water from the lake in between long dry stretches, dwindled to under a tenth of their former populations.  Those startling numbers influenced scientists and conservationists to kick off the carp removal project in 2009.

The carp removal program has employed several strategies, and altogether they’ve managed to removed millions of carp from the watershed.  They’ve drained and screened off lakes to remove fish, used radiotelemetry to find spawning grounds and electrocuted the unhatched eggs, and poisoned different water bodies with piscicides like rotenone.  The dent they put in the carp population was starting to show results, as native native fish were found recolonizing much of their old habitat.  But with the program on hold while the protestors occupied the preserve, every female who had the opportunity to spawn was free to hatch up to a million eggs, and the carp population exploded all over again.

Commercial Fisheries and Malheur Carp

The carp program will continue despite this hiccup, and the managers have found an elegant remedy – they’re getting the community involved.  They’ve hired commercial fishermen to catch and sell the fish, effectively giving them two paydays for the price of one.  They’ve offered the fish to local restaurants as an inexpensive meat to serve to their customers, who will eat it as a feel-good way to help the preserve.  Carcasses of unusable fish will be given to local farmers to help fertilize the fields.  Restaurants, fishermen, farmers and customers all get a little something from the program, and hopefully it will get things back on track.




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