Sponsors of a scheduled $10,000 fishing derby claim the U.S. Forest Service's decision to "flip-flop" on allowing the tournament is arbitrary and capricious.
"Now we'll have to step back and look at all of our options. We aren't ruling out anything. If we can hold the tournament, we will. And if we can't, well, we'll just have to see," said Steve Brown, a spokesman for Allied, sponsors along with radio station Z-93 of the Strawberry 10,000.The fishing event was scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 24, at Strawberry Reservoir. The fisherman weighing in the largest rainbow trout caught that day was to receive $10,000.
Friday, Robert Riddle, a ranger with the Heber District, called Allied and informed officials that an environmental impact study would be needed before the event could be held. Such a study would take at least 45 days to complete.
"By the time we finished with the study, we'd have to hold an ice-fishing tournament. Maybe," said Brown.
"We did everything that was asked of us. If they had a concern, we responded with a solution. We were told everything was OK and we could go ahead with the event, so we did. We've spent $20,000 so far.
"Forest Service officials told us they want to analyze the impact of the tournament before allowing it to go forth. That will be difficult to do if it's not held," he said.
Earlier this week, Riddle was quoted as saying the 3,500 (the ceiling put on registration) was significantly less pressure than has been recorded at the reservoir on busy days.
"Having twice this number of people at the reservoir on a busy day, isn't that enough to measure the impact?" Brown asked.
"Nevertheless, if the Forest Service study ensures the next tournament proposal will be judged on its rational merits rather than the knee-jerk reaction of a couple of elitist, special-interest groups, we welcome the intervention," Brown said.
The Forest Service gave the OK for Allied to hold the tournament under a special-events permit held by Doug Phillips, who runs the Strawberry Marina.
There were charges earlier in the week that the permit was altered to accommodate this event. That is untrue, said Brown.
In the past two weeks, several individuals and groups have come forward to protest the fishing derby.
The Stonefly Society of the Wasatch Fly Fishing Club charged that the event would "set back the recovering cutthroat trout fishery. It is an attempt to exploit a resource that taxpayers have invested over six years and $20 million in an ongoing effort to restore Utah's most important family fishery for commercial gain."
Joe Young, president of Trout Unlimited, said that the timing of the event was ill-conceived.
"The impact to the emerging cutthroat fishery is certainly our major concern, but impacts of areas along the shore could be substantial," he said.
In 1990, at a cost of more than $4 million, Strawberry was chemically treated to remove so-called "trash fish." Since then, million of Bear Lake cutthroat, sterile rainbow trout and Kokanee salmon have been planted. The goal is to some day have a self-regenerating cutthroat trout fishery. To accomplish that, regulation at the lake limits fishermen to catch and keep only one cutthroat.
In its rules, Allied stipulated that only one fish could be weighed, and it needed to be a rainbow.
Opponents argued that misidentification and improper removal of hooks would cause the loss of far too many cutthroat.
The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources reported that the event was legal and that while the division had some concerns, "There are some positive attributes as well."
Allied officials said about 1,000 have registered for the event. Brown said the business will explore all options before it cancels the event.