Dr. Dwayne Maxwell:
I'm taking this opportunity to document my recollection of our conversation earlier this month (11/15), as well as to add my observations from Wednesday's trip to Palomar Mountain State Park to those you have received from John O'Brien, Dave Kajtaniak, Val Taylor, and Chris McKibben. I had hoped that we might have had a decision maker (you) available, but I do understand that our age, flu in a spouse is a real cause for concern.
Allen and I met your team about 10 am, and started the day with an inspection of Doane Pond and the weir area. We were surprised to see signs prohibiting take of frog or tadpoles from the pond; since these bullfrogs are exotics known to prey on endangered species in the area, it would seem logical to encourage legal take.
We proceeded down Doane Creek, and as previously reported, the upper half mile of the watershed was untouched by the Poomacha Fire. The water flow was at its annual minimum, less than a cubic foot per minute. Chris McKibbin reported water temperatures around 5 degrees C.
We found 8 - 10 untouched pools in this reach of Doane Creek, some as little as 6 inches deep, and were able to observe 15 to 20 trout up to 4 or 5 inches long scattered throughout the pools. This reach of Doane Creek lies between 4500 and 5000 feet and faces north; extended periods of subfreezing temperatures are not uncommon. The shallow depth of some of these pools causes me concern about ground ice formation and winter kill.
We saw fewer than 5 trout in the lightly burned upper part of the Strawberry Flat reach of Doane Creek. Downstream of Strawberry Flat, we encountered evidence of increasingly intense fire. Several pools that I know once had mature trout (8-12") under log jams were destroyed because the logs burned, filling the pools with ash. As we moved through Strawberry Flat, we began to observe films of wind-blown ash covering still pools. No trout were observed in these pools.
A few trout persisted in the two large pools below the junction of Doane and French Creeks. The fire in this area was considerably more intense than farther upstream, and the French Creek watershed was heavily impacted. Again, I saw several large pools that once held adult trout that were now filled in by charcoal logs. Its likely these trout were parboiled. Ash was ankle deep throughout the fire footprint in the French Valley, but John O'Brien and Dave Kajtaniak reported that the upper French Creek watershed was outside the footprint. John and Dave also reported that water flow in the upper part of French was significantly greater than in the unburned reach of Doane Creek.
We continued downstream 1/2 mile along Pauma Creek to the area just downstream from the intersection with the trail the the Church Camp. We saw a lot of ash being blown about by the Santa Ana winds. This ash fall combined with the autumn leaf fall to form a barrier to observation, and perhaps to gas diffusion.
Allen and I discussed our observations with your staff upon return to the parking area.. During our discussion, we were joined by the Palomar Mountain School Camp Administrator, Cathy (I didn't catch her last name, but could obtain it if needed), who asked if we had come to save the trout. She stated that these trout were a highlight of the school camp field trips, and that the sixth graders always wanted to know about them. Cathy stated that during the previous two winters she had observed trout frozen solid in some of Doane's shallower pools.
During our discussion, John O'Brien suggested that it might be better to move some trout into the unburned section of French Creek, since winter kill was less likely there. Allen and I stated that it was urgent to make the moves as soon as possible, as the rains were imminent. I also stated that because the impending rain event was coming from a cutoff low pressure cell to the southwest, it was likely to be heavy rain. Unlike areas farther north, San Diego's major rainmakers are systems that come from the southwest.
Your team agreed with our earlier assessment there was an imminent danger to the survival of the fish in Pauma Creek from a flow of ash and debris. Bare soils washing into the creek could be washing into the stream could result in heavily silted gravels, precluding recovery of the populatoin by natural recruitment.
Allen and I recommended (1) moving 50 to 100 rt from middle Pauma up into upper French Creek where the fire did not burn; (2) to capture an additional 20 individuals to be transferred to the Chula Vista Nature Center for educational and gene banking purposes; and (3) leave the Doane Creek trout undisturbed. where they are living. I would also like to suggest that your Department treat Doane Pond with rotenone to eliminate any remaining bullheads and bullfrogs. That would allow the Department to use Doane Pond as a "hedge fund" for the Pauma Creek trout, and continue to support a winter/spring fishery at this popular and traditional venue.
I continue to believe that a non-production, rescue hatchery is the best insurance for the long term survival of this population of RT and related strains elsewhere in Southern California. I am aware of the problems associated with infectious and genetic diseases that have been associated with hatcheries run by state and federal resource agencies. The approach taken by Hubbs Sea World Research Institute on white sea bass restoration is what I would hope to emulate. As a private citizen, it is difficult for me to find time to fulfill the Department's hatchery plan requirement, but I am working on it.