How to get rid of non-native fish in wilderness

Utah Division of Wildlife

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.


5 thoughts on “How to get rid of non-native fish in wilderness”

  1. I recall North Cascades NP / Park Service used chemicals to eradicate stocked fish in formerly fishless lakes in NCNP, much of which is designated Wilderness. If the lake(s) in question were historically fishless, that should be the goal and restoring native amphibians.

  2. Why not dynamite?

    The whole idea of wilderness is a bit odd, I feel like we should set a benchmark condition for each designated wilderness when it is made official that defines the condition that will (or won’t) be managed for. Looks like the regional forester ( ) may be in charge of saying what should be allowed. Are there any reporting guidelines? Seems a little fishy.

    • Thanks for that reference. Within the legal sideboards of the federal legislation that established the wilderness area, management decisions are (like for everything else on a national forest) supposed to be consistent with the land management plan. Excerpts from this Wilderness Manual:

      “Wilderness management direction is prepared as a part of the forest planning process as required by 36 CFR Part 219 and FSM 1922.”

      “The Forest Supervisor ensures that management of the wilderness resource is a part of the forest plan.”

      “2322.02 – Objectives
      1. Ensure that wilderness resource is fully integrated into the Forest Land and Resource
      Management Plan.”

      “2322.03 – Policy
      1. Management direction for each wilderness must be stated in the forest plan as
      management area prescriptions with associated standards and guidelines. Each wilderness is
      unique as established by law; therefore, each will be identified as a separate management area.”

      5…. If a wilderness plan is required subsequent to adoption of the forest plan, the required plan should not duplicate information contained in the forest plan. It should tier from and ultimately be appended to the Forest Land and Resource Management Plan.”

      I’ll admit I haven’t paid much attention to this part of forest planning, but I haven’t noticed a lot wilderness planning going on.

  3. Putting game fish in fish-less lakes in wilderness is a form of “trammeling”, especially when those planted fish are predators on native amphibians. thankfully, some work on removing planted fish in North Cascades (?) National Park showed that amphibian populations recovered, but as amphibians deal with increasing stressors, they may not always be that resilient. And to me the trammeling is especially apparent when these planted fish are in wilderness lakes where there is mercury pollution – because the fish are there, mercury can bioaccumulate. No fish = no bioaccumulation.

  4. Sort of along the same lines – how to get rid of non-native cows in wilderness … call USDA Wildlife Services (best known for predator control).

    “I gotta ask that you delay this,” said Conservation District Chairman Ty Bays, who at one point conjured up the image of outdoor recreationists floating down the river past scores of rotting cow carcasses, and couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of the thought. “I have concerns about 250 carcasses, the impact on water quality, and, gosh, aesthetically, too.


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