Wilderness Watch is urging the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) to scrap a plan to poison 60 miles of the North Fork Blackfoot River and its headwater tributaries and three small lakes in the Scapegoat Wilderness, in an attempt to kill the non-native fishes the FWP has been stocking in these streams for decades. The plan also calls for at least 60 helicopter flights to haul in poisons and other equipment, a motor boat for poisoning the lakes, and extensive use of generators and other motorized equipment in the Wilderness. The Scapegoat is part of the famed Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex in northwest Montana.
The streams, lakes, and upper reaches of the North Fork Blackfoot River scheduled for poisoning are naturally fishless. While removing a non-native species from Wilderness might seem like a good idea, unfortunately that’s not the ultimate goal of the project. In fact, once FWP is convinced its massive poisoning project has killed most of the fish, it plans to restock the streams with more fish, this time the westslope cutthroat trout, a species native to western Montana, but not to these naturally fishless streams or lakes.
The problem with both poisoning streams and stocking naturally fishless waters with fish is that they wreck havoc on the natural aquatic ecosystem. FWP and the Forest Service, which must ultimately approve the plan, refer to the natural condition of these waters as “barren”, but in fact they are rich aquatic ecosystems filled with life. The poison rotenone has been shown to kill many of the organisms that derive oxygen from the water, including aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates, amphibians, and other species that naturally occur in these streams. Introducing westslope cutthroat—a voracious predator—into naturally fishless ecosystems has been shown to have devastating effects to natural systesm throughout the West. Wilderness exists to allow natural ecosystems to evolve naturally, not to serve as game farms or fish hatcheries for utilitarian oriented fish and game managers. Yet creating a trout fishery is exactly what FWP intends to do.
Photo: North Fork of the Blackfoot River, Scapegoat Wilderness, MT by U.S. Forest Service via Flickr