Overcoming Challenges to Native Fish Restoration in a National Park
Stephen E. Moore and Matt A. Kulp
Abstract.—The primary mission of the U.S. National Park Service is to protect and preserve native species. Control of nonnative species is also a principal management objective. Historic land management and stocking of nonnative Rainbow Trout Oncorhynchus mykiss in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the eastern United States resulted in native Brook Trout Salvelinus fontinalis losing approximately 75% of their historic range. Consequently, the park initiated a program in 1976 to evaluate electrofishing for removal of Rainbow Trout in six small streams and found it to be successful upstream of impassable barriers. Later (mid-1990s), park biologists effectively used Fintrol (antimycin) to remove nonnative Rainbow Trout from low-elevation streams with impassable barriers. The National Environmental Policy Act and the Environmental Assessment process required public meetings be held in communities around the park prior to the use of Fintrol to explain the need for and purpose of these projects. In September 2008, Fintrol was used to renovate a large system—12.8 km (8 mi) of upper Lynn Camp Prong. Native Brook Trout were reintroduced in 2009, but monitoring efforts in 2010 revealed the presence of illegally stocked Rainbow Trout in upstream sections of the project area. Approximately 4.6 km (3.0 mi) of the project area was successfully retreated in 2011 to remove the reintroduced Rainbow Trout. Several public hearings were held successfully around the park to educate local residents about the Lynn Camp Prong project. Monitoring efforts during 2012–2015 showed that the Brook Trout population increased steadily, with abundance ultimately exceeding that of Rainbow Trout prior to restoration. Lessons learned are that (1) public education, buy-in, and involvement are crucial to success; (2) partnerships with state and federal agencies, local conservation groups, and the local community are essential; (3) fisheries professionals must be steadfastly committed to success and adaptable to changing conditions; and (4) restoration of native species can be controversial. If sabotage happens, reach out to the public, provide them with up-to-date information, and enlist their help.