By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Efforts are under way to maintain a delicate balance at Lake Earl.

Biologist Melissa Bukosky of the California Department of Fish and Game is working toward a management plan for the lake studying whats best for the wildlife, plants and people who are directly affected by the rise and fall of the lakes waters.

The key is to try to find a balance, Bukosky said yesterday.

What Lake Earls water level should be has long been a contentious issue in Del Norte County.

Those who have run ranches there for 50 years or more say the lake has always been kept at 4 feet or less to prevent flooding of the land they make a living on.

The ranchers also say more land and habitat is available to wildlife when the lake level is low.

But biologists in both the private and public sector say because Lake Earl is not a lake, but a wetland area, the more water, the better.

As water levels increase, wildlife habitat increases, said Bukosky.

Though maximizing wildlife habitat is Fish and Games main job, in this case its not the only thing Bukosky will be looking at to develop the plan.

Usually our job is easy, but because of where the lake is located and the vicinity of Crescent City, we have more of a social interface and have to look at the social ecology of the area, she said.

To determine how to fit people into the plan, Fish and Game will interview people who grew up here who have some historic reference to the effect Lake Earl levels have on its human neighbors.

In addition to those interviews, Bukosky will rely on scientific surveys that detail which plants and animals live in and by the lake and in which conditions they can best thrive.

This management plan will deal with studies on how different lake levels affect wildlife and plants and the properties surrounding it, she said.

Fish and Game is not the only authority in creating the plan. The state Office of Planning and Research tracks the process assuring Fish and Game follows the California Environmental Quality Act regulations.

Fish and Game must also follow federal regulations regarding the endangered species living in the area.

And there are several endangered species well have to manage for. The tidewater Gobi, the Oregon Silver Spot Butterfly, the Peregrin Falcon and Coho Salmon can potentially use the lake and have in the past, said Bukosky.

Coming up with the best way to regulate Lake Earls water level is crucial Bukosky said, because it is the most unique wetland area in all of California.

For one thing, its the largest coastal lagoon in the state and its the best natural duck pond Ive ever seen, she said.

And Bukosky said she has seen a lot of wetlands throughout the western states and Central America.

Though she has only worked for Fish and Game for eight months, her background and education indicate she is qualified for the Lake Earl job.

Before working for Fish and Game, Bukosky was an aquatic ecologist doing wetland restoration work in Humboldt County and she is used to sensitive topics like Lake Earl.

Ive worked on other EIRs on other controversial projects and you certainly want to come up with a balance for whats best for everyone, she said.