Two conservation groups are appealing the Flathead National Forest’s decision to authorize the poisoning of 21 lakes in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Jewel Basin Hiking Area.
In an appeal filed last month, Wilderness Watch and Friends of the Wild Swan allege that the Forest Service’s approval of the South Fork Flathead Watershed Westslope Cutthroat Trout Conservation Program violates provisions of the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act and the Endangered Species Act.
The plan authorizes the state Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) to use poisons and motorized equipment to remove hybrid cutthroat trout from mountain lakes, and then restock those historically fishless lakes with genetically pure populations of Westslope cutthroat trout.
The groups also claim the Forest Service’s authorization to use helicopters, aircraft, outboard motors, pumps and mixers in Jewel Basin and the Bob violates the agency’s own forest plan, which does not allow motorized equipment in plan-identified grizzly bear “core areas” while bears are out of their dens.
George Nickas, executive director of Wilderness Watch, says the plan emphasizes Westslope cutthroat recovery at the expense of everything else.
“We’d like to see the Forest Service and FWP start taking a long view of these aquatic ecosystems,” says Nicaks, pointing out that state wildlife managers continue to introduce non-native fish species that threaten Westslope cutthroat trout. “Our organizations want to see the native cutthroat trout protected in a way that also protects the wilderness character of the Bob Marshall and all the wildlife that live in and around its lakes and streams.”
Deb Mucklow, district ranger of the Spotted Bear Ranger District, says the Forest Service has no authority over fish stocking.
“The Forest Service is not making decisions on stocking, so that’s not appealable,” she says. Fish stocking is done by FWP, though the Forest Service has approved that activity under the plan. Mucklow says since the lakes in the Bob were stocked decades prior to its designation as wilderness, the Forest Service no longer considers them fishless lakes.
A Forest Service panel is in the process of reviewing the administrative appeal and a decision is expected later this summer.