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Management of Washington's High Lakes

Category: Fish/Shellfish Research and Management - Management and Conservation

Date Published: December 2005

Number of Pages: 44

Publication Number: FPT 05-04

Author(s): Jim Uehara

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

The purpose of this report is to document Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) high lakes management goal, objectives, and strategies, and guidelines for management. For specific details of facts or figures contained within this report see Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s High Lakes Fishery – Final Report (Pfeifer et al. 2001). A copy of this report can found on-line at: http://wdfw.wa.gov/publications/pub.php?id=01131 

The management goal for fish populations in Washington’s high lakes is to:

Protect, restore, and enhance fish populations and their habitats in high lakes while maximizing recreational opportunities consistent with natural resource protection guidelines.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) high lakes program is an integral part of the Agency’s overall trout program. People have been traveling to the high elevations of the Olympic Peninsula and Cascade mountain ranges for over 100 years to take part in this extraordinary recreational experience. An estimated 128,000 license-buying anglers use Washington’s high lakes annually. This equates to over a million angler days per year. This activity has an estimated annual worth of nearly $34 million while WDFW’s cost associated with managing the program is estimated to be around $40,000. Because many of the high lakes support self-sustaining fish populations, and because many of the lakes are stocked by organized volunteers groups, the program is one of the most cost-effective program administered by WDFW.

Lake Management Strategies. WDFW manages each high lake with one of following three basic management strategies. Fishless lakes are managed for native wildlife species only, with no trout stocking. These lakes are found across the landscape especially in designated wilderness areas and the state’s national parks. Quality Fisheries are lakes where the local manager regulates fish stocking frequency and density to produce fish of high quality, but not necessarily quantity. Production water are lakes that have no native wildlife species preservation concerns, are regularly stocked or have self reproducing fish populations, have high angler use levels, and easy access.

The result of these strategies provide:

    1. Protection of native species,
    2. A diversity of fishing opportunities,
    3. Consideration for ecological impacts of fisheries and fish presence, and
    4. Avoids the development of self reproducing populations.

Of the more than 4,700 high lakes and ponds in Washington, at least 2,940 (62%) are fishless, an estimated 1,000 of the lakes have self-sustaining populations and only about 800 (17%) are periodically stocked.

Management Guidelines

Fish Stocking. As a general fish stocking guideline, high lakes should be managed for a total standing trout density of no more than 50 to 100 fish per surface acre. Fish stocks which have demonstrated an inability to successfully reproduce in Washington’s high lakes should be considered first. Management of high lakes is not driven by catch rates, instead stocking strategies (densities and species) are used to address ecological issues such as impacts to native fauna, down stream impacts, and the general overall productivity of the lake. However, within the confines of stocking densities guidelines, and frequency at which lakes are stocked, there are opportunities to refine lake management to meet a desired catch rate. For lakes that are managed for quality fisheries the catch rate objective should be three 11-13inch fish per day. For lakes that are managed for production fisheries an expected catch rate is five fish per day. This includes those waters with self-sustaining populations at undesirable levels.

Field Investigations. Inventory Methods for information on certain physical, chemical, and biological parameters is essential to any management approach for high lakes trout fisheries. For consistency among data sets, the following forms are suggested for use: High Lake Fishing Report Form: Appendix A, and the Alpine Lake Field Survey Form Appendix B.

Ecological Considerations. WDFW local managers will practice continued diligence managing high lakes to be certain that fish species and stocks do not pose any realistic chance of hybridizing or competing with native fish in downstream receiving waters, and avoid unacceptable ecological impacts.

Introduction

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) high lakes program is an integral part of the Agency’s overall trout program. People have been traveling to the high elevations of the Olympic Peninsula and Cascade mountain ranges for over 100 years to take part in this extraordinary recreational experience. An estimated 128,000 license-buying anglers use Washington’s high lakes annually (Michael, 2004) and has an estimated worth of nearly $34 million (U.S. Department of Interior, et al., 2003). WDFW’s cost associated with managing the program is estimated to be around $40,000 (Pfeifer et. al. 2001). Because many of the high lakes support self-sustaining fish populations, and because many of the lakes are stocked with low-cost small fry by organized volunteers groups (Trailblazers, Highlakers, and Backcountry Horsemen), the program is one the most cost-effective program administered by WDFW.

WDFW’s high lake fishery program includes those lakes in western Washington above 2,500 feet mean sea level and above 3,500 feet in eastern Washington. These elevations encompasses the sub-alpine and alpine habitat zones. Since the alpine zone is defined as above the timberline and lies well above 2,500 feet in western Washington the term “high” lake is preferred to alpine lake.

The water bodies in the high lakes program vary in size and may be categorized using terms such as “lake” and “pond” or “tarn”. The overwhelming majority of alpine and subalpine waters being maintained for trout fisheries in Washington are at least large enough to appear on standard 7.5 minute U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) topographic maps. Smaller waters (between 0.1 to 0.2 acres) tend to be omitted from these 1:24,000 scale maps. Most of these do not support fish, but do provide important, or critical habitat for amphibians and invertebrates (Kezer and Farner 1955; Anderson 1967; Fukumoto and Herrero 1998). Of the more than 4,700 high lakes and ponds in Washington, at least 2,940 (62%) are fishless, an estimated 1,000 of the lakes have selfsustaining populations and only about 800 (17%) are periodically stocked.

The purpose of this report is to document WDFW’s high lakes management goal and objectives, and the strategies for their implementation and evaluation.

Management Goal and Objectives.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s mission statement of “Sound Stewardship of Washington’s Fish and Wildlife Resources” has as one of it’s goals to “Maximum fishing, hunting and non-consumptive recreational opportunities compatible with healthy, diverse fish and wildlife populations”. Goals specific to fish management include providing for significant recreation opportunities through artificial propagation programs and providing a diversity of fishing opportunities. The management goal of fish populations in Washington’s high lakes is to:

Protect, restore, and enhance fish populations and their habitats in high lakes while maximizing recreational opportunities consistent with natural resource protection guidelines.

Objectives: The fish resources in high lakes will be managed with objectives that when met will achieve the high lakes management goal. They are:

  • Maintain the productivity and diversity of native fish and wildlife populations and their habitat in high lakes at healthy levels,
  • Maintain introduced fish stocks at desired levels in high lakes consistent with native resource needs (protection from hybridization, and significant interspecific competition),
  • Provide a diversity of recreational fishing opportunities in high lakes that are desired by the public and consistent with native resource needs,
  • Promote a conservation ethic associated with the high lakes fishing experience, and
  • Promote effective coordination and communication of management objectives and and actions with land managers, constituents, and other agencies.

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