The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is taking public comment on a proposal to supposedly help Arctic grayling—a species of freshwater fish in the salmon family—in southwestern Montana, but which will seriously degrade the Red Rock Lakes Wilderness. Your comments are needed by March 28 to convince the agency to consider wilderness-compatible alternatives.
Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge is situated within a mosaic of State, Federal, and private lands, and it was established by Executive Order in 1935 as a “refuge and breeding ground for birds and other wildlife species”. In 1976, Congress designated 32,350 of the Refuge’s 53,418 acres as Wilderness.
The only native populations of Arctic grayling in the Lower 48 are found in the Upper Missouri River Basin in southwestern Montana, with one of those populations found in the Centennial Valley that includes the Red Rock Lakes Wilderness. Grayling migrate into and over-winter in Upper Red Rock Lake, which lies entirely within designated Wilderness. And in recent years, the grayling population there has undergone a significant decline whose cause is undetermined.
The FWS, in conjunction with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, as well as Trout Unlimited, is now proposing a significant project aimed at helping the grayling, based on the theory that the grayling population has been declining because there is not enough oxygen in Upper Red Rock Lake during the winter. The agencies have produced a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) to address the problem, but every single action alternative in the EA would degrade the Red Rock Lakes Wilderness by building structures or installations, which the Wilderness Act prohibits. Included in the EA are such things as building a power line to the lake, installing permanent aeration pipes into the lake, installing various electric devices to spin and churn the water during winter, etc.
Wilderness Watch supports the preservation of Arctic grayling in the Centennial Valley, but we believe that the agencies have overlooked other theories that could explain the grayling decline and the EA itself admits there are multiple factors. And we don’t believe that the Red Rock Lakes Wilderness should be damaged to test the idea that oxygen levels in the lake are to blame for grayling decline. A former Refuge manager of Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge agrees, for example, and he believes that other actions (such as stopping recreational fishing in Centennial Valley, which hooks many grayling as well as disturbs stream beds critical to grayling) should be taken first.
Please speak up by March 28 to help protect the Red Rock Lakes Wilderness!
Urge the FWS to consider wilderness-compatible alternatives for its Red Rock Lakes NWR Arctic grayling conservation
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