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Overdue Lake Earl plan nearing release

By Jennifer Henion

Triplicate staff writer

If Lake Earl-area ranchers have nothing else in common with environmentalists, the two groups do agree on one thing: state Fish and Game should deliver on its promise of a management plan for the wetland.

For the third time in seven months, Fish and Game promised yesterday that the plan would be finished in two weeks.

"We've gone through a series of revisions, basically to make it more clear for the public to understand. It's going through the last revision with the legal department and should be done the first part of February," said Karen Kovacs, senior biologist in charge of the Lake Earl Wildlife Area.

The management plan and its environmental impact report is expected to resolve a decades-old argument between property owners who get flooded and environmentalists who want increased wildlife habitat.

Lake Earl is a fluctuating coastal lagoon that farmers and county officials have drained for the last 100 years when its waters rose to flood stage.

Within the last few years, Fish and Game and other government agencies put heavy restrictions on when the lake could be drained due to concerns about the wildlife habitat.

Landowners Helen Ferguson, Daniel Honeywell and Lou Goodgame, among others, said Fish and Game's restrictions on when to breach the lake should not be allowed without an environmental impact report and management plan.

Environmentalists who say the lagoon should be left to nature also want the impact report to prove it is best for wildlife to let the lagoon rise and drain naturally.

The national nonprofit group, Sierra Club, has organized a campaign and action group to preserve Lake Earl from development and human destruction.

Fish and Game owns 95 percent of the land covered by the lake when it reaches the 10-foot level. Its plan is expected to dictate a specific water level that is the best compromise between nearby landowners and the wildlife there.

The Lake Earl wetland is the largest lagoon in the western United States outside of Alaska. When swollen with water in the winter months, its circumference is about 60 miles.

About 300 species of birds have been documented, including commonly seen bald eagles, peregrine falcons and blue herons.

It has 15 fish species, 250 kinds of trees and 50 mammal species including black bears, mink, elk and otters.

Kovacs said the environmental report and plan is large but manageable.

"We wanted to be very detailed. It's not as big as the Sears catalog, but may be the size of the Cabella's fishing section," she said.

Once ready for release, a hard copy of the plan will be available at the Del Norte County Library and the Del Norte County Community Development Department. It will also be posted on the Fish and Game Web site.

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