Lake Earl plan delayed a month

June 30, 2002 11:00 pm

By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

A long anticipated plan for how the government will manage the Lake Earl Wildlife Area, its plants and animals will be late.

"We've run into some unanticipated delays outside the scope of this document. We should have an internal draft by the end of July," said Karen Kovacs, senior bBiologist for the California Department of Fish and Game.

Originally due out this week from Fish and Game, the management plan will determine a height at which the fluctuating lake will be allowed to be breached.

As a fluctuating wetland coastal lagoon, Lake Earl is not technically classified as a lake.

The area, fed by several freshwater streams, rises and floods surrounding lands.

If left alone, the lake would eventually breach the narrow sandbar separating the lake from the ocean, cut a channel through the sand and then empty.

For many years, both the Del Norte County government and farmers living next to the lake have breached the sandbar before water rose to the natural breach level.

Farmers and residents say when waters rise past four feet, their pastures and yards get flooded.

Some wildlife biologists and environmentalists say if waters are not allowed to rise at least eight feet, the habitat-rich wetland area does not get the nourishment it needs. That in turn affects the wildlife dependent on the wetlands.

The debate between the two ideologies has raged for several years with almost no scientific research to determine what the best management plan for the Lake Earl Wildlife area should be.

Since the buyout of Lake Earl and the land around it by Fish and Game and state parks, angry ranchers and some Del Norte County supervisors have implored the state to use good science and develop a proper plan for managing the lake level for the sake of the wildlife and the people who have lived near the lake for decades.

The announcement of the plan delay comes one day after the California Coastal Conservancy agreed to give $1 million to the Wildlife Conservation Board to acquire land bordering the lagoon.

About 1,000 acres around the lake are on the list for state acquisition. The state already owns the land covered by the lagoon waters up to the eight-foot level.

Kovacs said once the draft plan is complete, it will be posted on the Internet.

She said The Daily Triplicate will be notified the same day the plan is released to the public and will be notified of the exact Web site for the plan.