Pond Reclamation Efforts Is this compatible with "Forever Wild"?
Imagine your surprise if you came upon the sign at right while hiking
through the woods. "Fish have been eradicated??" you might
ask incredulously. Perhaps you were planning on camping at the body of water
in question, planning to use its water for cooking and its plentiful fish
for breakfast, lunch and dinner on your weekend getaway. And perhaps you
might ask who gets to determine what exactly an "undesirable"
fish is. The truth is, the Department of Environmental Conservation (or, as
it was called at that time, the Conservation Department) has been performing
these so-called pond reclamations since the 1950's. The basic formula for a
reclamation is as follows: all fish life in the pond is killed without
harming other forms of aquatic life, and several weeks later, the water is
re-stocked with a native species.
When man first began appearing in the Adirondacks, every lake, river, and
stream had an abundant supply of fish, usually some form of trout. Thriving
at the low temperatures of Adirondack waters, brook trout (also known as
speckled trout) and lake trout were two of the most common varieties. It
wasn't long before anglers took to the region, many being led by guides into
This sign was found near Crane Mt. Pond. The pond is
located at 2,600 feet in elevation, high on the slopes of the
3,200-foot Crane Mt, in the southern Adirondacks. November 22,
the interior, others remaining at popular wilderness lodges, such as the one
at Jock's Lake (now known as Honnedaga Lake, in the southwestern corner of
the park). Some of the recorded catches are phenomenal; for example, the
Piseco Lake Trout Club reported catching more than 600 pounds of trout over
a nine-day span in 1842.
Over the years, not only were fewer and fewer native "brookies" and
"lakers" were caught, but the size of the ones caught declined as
well, for a variety of reasons. Over-fishing is a possible factor. However,
in many cases the anglers introduced non-native and more aggressive species
into the waters, often by the seemingly innocent practice of using live bait
fish. Not all introductions were incidental, however. Pike were allegedly
brought to Long Lake by Indian Lake guides many years ago to
reduce competition in the guiding business. Many species, such as bass and
perch, were deliberately introduced by folks who preferred them to the
native Adirondack fish. No matter how the non-native fish got there, one
fact is clear: unable to compete, the populations of the native species
declined. Brook trout has been more affected than lake trout, which usually
suffer a general decline in size rather than extirpation from a body of
water. Round whitefish, once abundant in the Adirondacks, have suffered from
non-native introductions most of all: the species is currently endangered
and exists in only six bodies of water across the state, four of which are
located within the High Peaks.
The influx of acid rain over the region has done little to help the survival
of native fish. Due to weather patterns, much of the pollution from
Midwestern factories blows over the Adirondacks, where it is dumped as
highly acidic precipitation. Efforts have been made to combat the ill
effects by adding lime to severely affected lakes, but it is an uphill
battle. The acid keeps coming, and there is money for only so much lime.
There are many examples of waters being brought back to neutral pH by the
addition of lime, only to revert back to extreme acidity only two or three
years later. But acid rain tends to affect most fish species equally, native
or non-native, and is therefore a completely separate subject from pond
The decline of native species was noticeable as early as the late 1800's.
Around the beginning of the 20th Century, the state began stocking efforts
to restore native trout populations. Again, this was an uphill battle, since
the brook trout populations of many waters came to depend on annual stocking
in order to survive; some ponds unable to be "reclaimed" still do.
The state needed a more permanent way of restoring native fish species
without completely destroying the complex ecosystem that exists in every
lake and pond. A chemical called rotenone was just what they needed.
Obtained from the roots of certain plants in the southern hemisphere,
rotenone was sometimes used by indigenous peoples to catch fish. The
chemical suffocates fish by preventing respiratory function. Since it is
toxic to fish at levels that do not harm plants, mammals, reptiles,
amphibians, or anything else in a body of water, it is an excellent way to
prepare a pond for the re-stocking of native species (In theory, human
consumption of water containing rotenone is completely safe, although the
DEC warns against it). As an added bonus, rotenone breaks down quickly, so
that any fish life downstream from a reclaimed pond is not
When performing a reclamation, the DEC first tries to make sure that
non-native fish are not able to re-inhabit the reclaimed pond without
assistance. A pond surrounded by wetlands cannot be effectively reclaimed.
Upstream populations of non-native fish will simply re-inhabit the reclaimed
pond, as will a downstream population in the absence of a fish barrier dam.
A native species to be re-introduced must then be selected. In many cases it
is brook trout, taken from one of few remaining ponds with truly native
populations. Other species include dace, lake chub, and round whitefish,
depending on who the original inhabitants were. Next, rotenone is applied to
the water. No spots are missed; no puddle, no pool spared. Signs are posted
to make visitors aware of the reclamation process. Other signs are posted
urging anglers to not use live bait fish. Finally, several weeks after the
initial application of rotenone, the native species is reintroduced.
Is this legal? Under the letter of the law, yes it is. Under the spirit of
the law, perhaps not. But at the same time, the spirit of the pond
reclamations is not only to re-stock fish more desirable for anglers to
catch, but also to return the water to a condition that is more wild than it
previously was. According to the State Land Master Plan, a wilderness area
is one which "generally appears to have been affected by the forces of
nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable." By
reintroducing native species, the DEC is essentially attempting to reduce
the imprint of man's work.