Wilderness Watch and Friends of the Clearwater have filed a 60-day Notice of Intent (NOI) to sue the US Forest Service and the US Fish & Wildlife Service over the potential impacts to imperiled bull trout and other rare species from the planned expansion of the Fish Lake Airstrip in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness of the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests. Bull trout are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Canada lynx, also listed under the Endangered Species Act, are found in the project area.
Fish Lake contains the only known adfluvial population of bull trout in the Lochsa drainage and according to scientists, is threatened with extinction. Adfluvial fish live in lakes and migrate into rivers or streams to spawn. Fish Lake is also one of a small number of lakes in western U.S. Wildernesses that naturally harbored fish, making it one of the most unique bodies of water in the northern Rockies.
According to a recent scoping letter by the Forest Service, the agency intends on expanding the current airstrip at Fish Lake from 2745 feet to 3100 feet.
“Biologists with the US Fish & Wildlife Service have stated in the past that habitat degradation and increased fishing access to the lake from the existing airstrip already poses a significant threat to the small population,” said Gary Macfarlane with Friends of the Clearwater. “It makes no sense to go ahead and expand the airstrip and threaten the species further.”
“As required by law, the Forest Service is supposed to identify and study the potential impacts to threatened or endangered species that may be potentially affected within the project area,” said Macfarlane. “Instead of preparing a Biological Assessment, the agency indicated that the project is going to fall under a Categorical Exclusion, meaning no potential impacts would be studied,” he said.
According to Macfarlane, the groups are equally concerned with impacts to the area’s wilderness character.
“Protecting this unique, rare aquatic system in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness is more important than trying to facilitate more aircraft use,” said George Nickas with Wilderness Watch. “The Forest Service needs to do an adequate analysis and ensure the Wilderness is protected before this project moves forward.”