By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

In the quest for a new management plan of the Lake Earl estuary, the California Department of Fish and Game assigned a new biologist and an area manager to the task this week.

Though still in the beginning stages of study, supervising biologist Karen Kovacs said Fish and Game is trying to determine what the environmental needs and possible impacts of a plan are.

At the present time, we arent studying any species in particular. Its hard to say what were going to do. Right now were just trying to get the new biologist familiarized with the situation and figure out what the data gaps are, Kovacs said yesterday.

She was quick to mention that in developing the management plan, Fish and Game will comply with the California Environmental Quality Act.

How to best control the fluctuating waters of the area and the wetlands surrounding it has long been a controversial subject.

Longtime lake area property owners have argued for keeping the water levels below four feet. Any higher, they say, and their land is flooded and worthless to them.

Fish and Game already owns most of the land covered by the lagoon and has proposed to buy out remaining private properties near the lake.

On the other side of the fence, environmentalists say wildlife habitat will be maximized only by allowing waters to rise to eight feet and to fluctuate naturally.

More than 100 people crowded the chambers of the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors March 8 to witness or participate in one of the first public hearings on the issue.

Of the approximately 20 people who got up to speak, the majority said they favored managing the lake at an eight-foot level or above.

Specifically, the focus for developing a management plan is to optimize conditions for a wide variety of plants and animals with an emphasis on wetland and water-associated wildlife, as stated by Fish and Game.

Tim Williamson, the new area manager for the Lake Earl Wildlife Area and the new biologist will be compiling environmental data with public input over the next few months.

Kovacs said the name of the new biologist will remain secret for now to give him or her time away from the public to gather data.

Under Kovacs supervision, a plan for managing the estuary should be ready to implement by December 2002.

Karen Kovacs of Fish and Game said there will also be two other opportunities during plan development to make comments. She can be reached at 707-441-5789.