Buffalo Plateau

The Forest Service (FS) needs to reject a proposal by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) to poison 43 miles of Buffalo Creek plus two lakes in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in Montana, which is part of the famed Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The State’s goal is to kill the rainbow trout that descended from fish it stocked upstream in Hidden Lake in 1935, and which reached Buffalo Creek by the 2000s. The State wants to replace them with Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

The plan involves massive amounts of helicopter and motorized equipment use, in addition to spreading hundreds of gallons of the poison rotenone. Though the Buffalo Creek Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout (YCT) Conservation Project draft Environmental Assessment (EA) includes one option to remove fish from Buffalo Creek and then leave it fishless, that appears to be a throw-away option.

Wilderness Watch has three major concerns with the State’s plan:

  1. Buffalo Creek and the lakes included in the plan were all naturally fishless and should not be managed as an artificial “fishery”. The native aquatic biota are harmed by introduced fish and many would be killed by the poison. In Orwellian fashion, the FS and FWP refer to the project as “restoration,” yet it isn’t restoring any condition that ever existed in Buffalo Creek. If the State wants to remove the introduced fish, it should do so in a manner consistent with Wilderness.
  2. The State plan includes helicopter flights to haul in poisons and other equipment, plus an undisclosed number of helicopter flights to transport personnel, a motorboat for poisoning the lakes, and use of power generators and other motorized equipment in the Wilderness. The Wilderness Act prohibits all of these activities unless they are the minimum required for preserving Wilderness. Because the project has nothing to do with wilderness preservation, the FS must reject the State’s proposal as submitted.
  3. The Forest Service appears ready to approve the project without completing any independent environmental analysis of its own, and shortchanging public comment. A project of this magnitude in Wilderness should require completing an environmental impact statement that looks at the impacts to the entire aquatic ecosystem, and considers alternatives to the State’s massive ecosystem manipulation and motorized use plan in designated Wilderness.


The Forest Service needs to say NO to Montana’s proposal to invade Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness with helicopters, motorboats, and poisons. The appropriate wilderness response to the presence of previously-introduced fish in these waters is to let nature take its course as the Wilderness Act prescribes. If efforts are made to remove the fish, they must be done without motors and poisons. Under no conditions should other fish be stocked in this historically fishless area. 


• Read our comments


Photos: Buffalo Plateau on the border of Yellowstone National Park and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. The east side of the plateau drains into Buffalo Creek. Photo by Howie Wolke.


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