Since we had such fun discussing use of chainsaws in wilderness and eliminating wolves from wilderness, here’s another example of challenges to managing under the Wilderness Act. The Lolo National Forest is seeking comments on the North Fork Blackfoot River Native Fish Restoration Project which is located in the Scapegoat Wilderness. They have prepared an Environmental Assessment.
The project would authorize Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) to implement fish management and stocking actions within the wilderness that would establish a secure population of native trout, replacing an existing hybrid population.
To restore and secure this population, the project proposes the following actions; application of a piscicide, rotenone, to eradicate the non-native fish species; use of motorized equipment such as a boat motor, generator, and a helicopter to transport equipment, supplies, and fish for stocking; temporary development of structures or installations; and use of chemicals (pesticides or herbicides). Additionally, public access in the area would be closed for 7-10 days during the late summer of 2021 to reduce user conflicts with management actions.
The Forest Service has assessed the suitability of the proposed activities in the Scapegoat Wilderness through a process called a “minimum requirements analysis.” This is a process used to identify, analyze, and recommend management actions that are the minimum necessary for wilderness administration, as directed by the Wilderness Act of 1964.
From the linked article:
Opponents challenged the plan’s use of motorized equipment in a federal wilderness area where such machinery is typically prohibited, the idea of stocking otherwise fishless waters in wilderness, use of fish poison and the potential of harming non-target fish in the area.
There doesn’t seem to be much disagreement with the project purpose, but resistance to how they would do it. The exception where “mechanical transport” and “structure or installation” would be allowed by the Wilderness Act is: “except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this Act.” It seems like their argument that they need motorized access is weak (see photo), but if chemicals are the only way to remove the non-native species, should they not do it?
Then there is the requirement to maintain viable populations of native species on national forests, which might for some species (maybe amphibians that evolved without fish predators) require them to do it.