Enviros sue Forest Service over fish 'poisoning' in wilderness lake

United States Forest Service headquarters in Washington, D.C. Picture taken May 12, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Plaintiffs make claims under Wilderness Act
  • Project is 'antithetical' to Forest Service duty

July 26 - Conservation groups have sued the U.S. Forest Service in Missoula, Montana, federal court over its decision to authorize the killing with pesticides of fish previously stocked in a federal wilderness area located in the state's northwest, saying the project is "antithetical" to the agency's duty to preserve its wild character.

In a Thursday complaint, Wilderness Watch and others accused the Forest Service of violating the Wilderness Act when authorizing the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to land helicopters in the Scapegoat Wilderness Area to release the natural fish poison rotenone and restock waters with hatchery-raised trout.

Forest Service spokesperson Babete Anderson said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

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The agency authorized FWP in June to make more than 65 helicopter landings in Scapegoat Wilderness, apply rotenone to 67 miles of stream and three lakes, and restock the waters with hatchery-reared westslope cutthroat trout, the complaint says.

The project would rid the waters of existing fish, mostly non-native rainbow trout that were introduced beginning in the 1920s, to prevent crossbreeding with downstream westslope cutthroat trout, the complaint says.

The complaint claims the project "represents one of the most extensive intrusions on wilderness character that has ever been authorized in the National Wilderness Preservation System."

FWP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Montana's native westslope cutthroat trout populations have declined for reasons that include their breeding with non-native species, according to the state's authorities. The project seeks to remedy that situation.

Michael Garrity, executive director of co-plaintiff the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said the trout that would be introduced are of the same species but have a different genetic identity from the native ones.

The environmental plaintiffs in a separate filing, also on Thursday, asked the court to preliminarily bar FWP from commencing the project they say is due to start as soon as Aug. 1. They are represented by Dana Johnson of Wilderness Watch.

The case is Wilderness Watch et al v. Marten et al, U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, No. 9:21-cv-00082.

For Wilderness Watch et al: Dana Johnson of Wilderness Watch

(Correction: This story has been updated to identify the U.S. Forest Service rather than the Park Service in the headline and summary.)

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