Contacts:    George Nickas, Wilderness Watch, (406) 542-2048

Gary Macfarlane, Friends of the Clearwater (208) 882-9755


Lawsuit Threatened to Protect Imperiled Bull Trout

from Airstrip Expansion in Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness

Moscow- 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 effected within the project area,” continued 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.”

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.


About The Author

Brett Haverstick

Brett Haverstick is the Education & Outreach Director for Friends of the Clearwater, a public lands advocacy group in Moscow, Idaho. He has a Masters of Natural Resources from the University of Idaho.

18 Responses to Lawsuit threatened to protect imperiled bull trout from airstrip expansion in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness

  1. Nancy says:

    So what’s the reasoning behind the extension, Brett?
    The ability to land bigger, private jets? Are there a lot of outfitters in the area hoping to cash in on that?

    • Brett Haverstick says:

      Sorry for the slow response Nancy. The reason behind the extension, according to the scoping letter, is that the agency is seeking to lengthen the runway to meet it’s “historic” length, which hasn’t been the case for decades. As for the outfitters, I am not aware of any potentially benefiting from this proposal.

  2. Eric T. says:

    Looking at Google Earth the current layout of the cleared area, it doesn’t appear the lengthening the landing strip by 355 is that big of deal. The lengthening would happen away from the lake itself, i.e. 3K feet away. Whether that increases traffic, possibly, but no, jets aren’t going to be landing there. The topography doesn’t look particularly challenging in the immediate area, not like Big Creek. I can see why they went CE with it.

    • Nancy says:

      So, your best guess Eric T, as to why there’s a need to “lengthen” this airstrip?

    • Brett Haverstick says:

      The agency is bounded by law Eric to meet requirements under the ESA, regardless of where the proposed extension could take place. A CE is the basis for potential litigation.

      • Eric T. says:

        And the CE is a part of the ESA Brett. You certainly have a right to sue, but picking your battles to use your resources would also seem prudent.

        The lengthening and enhancement of the airstrip could actually be beneficial by including steps to prevent erosion from the airstrip to the creek and lake.

        Incidental catch of bull trout by a potential uptick in fishing pressure seems like a pretty weak argument.

  3. Way back in 1968 while conducting a survey of Bighorn Sheep for the IDFG, I camped at White Goat Lake, west of Challis, Idaho. This small mountain lake had a good population of large Bull Trout (Called Dolly Varden in those days).
    I caught a couple of the smaller ones for our meal. They seemed to be congregating near a large spring which was rising from one end of the lake. Some of them looked like they would weigh several pounds each. There was no inlet, so I suspect that the fish spawned near the large spring.
    I do not know what the population status is today, but I cannot see why it would have changed much. Would these Bull Trout be considered Adfluvial?

    • Kevin says:

      No they would be a lake-resident population and, as such, extremely unique. “Adfluvial” is from the Latin for “through the river” and is used for bull trout that live in a lake and migrate through a stream to spawning sites in running water.

    • Brett Haverstick says:

      Not necessarily having the qualifications to answer your question Larry, this population would not be considered alluvial in my opinion because the population that you are referring to does not migrate to a river/stream to spawn.

      • JZ says:

        Brett, I believe you mean “adfluvial” which means migrating b/w lake and streams (as Kevin descibed above) and not “alluvial” (stream deposition).

        It’s kinda like “Canada lynx” vs. “Canadian lynx” as you described in your news interview (Little Slate), either is acceptable, but the scientific community uses the former.

        I’d hope that as you mature into your role with FOC (and potentially take the leading role) you spend more time on the first part of your title for the benefit of your members and the credibility of your organization. Your current director has done a lot to maintain credibility, even amongst opponents. You seem to be taking a different tact with the latter part of your title.

  4. snaildarter says:

    I realize that Climate change is part of the problem but lets establish new viable bull trout populations before the FS expands their runway to accommodate more overfed corporate exec so they can pretend they are fishing in the wild.

    • Ida Lupines says:

      It’s disgusting, isn’t it?

    • Brett Haverstick says:

      An extension of the runway snaildarter would logically lead to more planes being landed, more visitors impacting the wilderness character of the area (having the runway regardless of the size greatly compromises this of course)and potentially leading to more people fishing in the lake, hooking bull trout and possibly leading to greater trout mortality.

  5. Logan says:

    I have read several forest service histories about the fish lake area and in particular the airstrip. The airstrip is mentioned as being fairly difficult to access and crashes were common, although I don’t remember what years the history recorded. Most of the crashed airplanes ended up in the lake itself.

    In this link is some of the story and a picture shows a sign that says 6 crashes have killed 8 people there and 5 of the planes ended up in the water.

    Lengthening the airstrip could reduce crashes into the lake and increase pilot and passenger safety.

    I don’t think the distance from the lake matters as much as the fact that the airstrip parrallels the creek flowing into the lake. The Forest service should certainly conduct a study to determine the amount of sediment that currently enters the system now by way of the existing airstrip and perform an assessment of any increases due to lengthening the airstrip. It may well be that doing some maintenance on the airstrip could reduce sedimentation to the stream and lake but it would be best to conduct the assessment first.

    In the end, Fish lake is a unique place worth protecting and whatever is best for the bull trout should be done, whether that is improving the airstrip, leaving it as is or closing it.

  6. Nancy says:

    “In the end, Fish lake is a unique place worth protecting and whatever is best for the bull trout should be done, whether that is improving the airstrip, leaving it as is or closing it”

    Always the thoughts/questions that challenge minds out here where there still is wilderness left, Logan, but I agree with Snaildarter, in his comment above:

    “lets establish new viable bull trout populations before the FS expands their runway **to accommodate more overfed corporate exec so they can pretend they are fishing in the wild”

  7. Trista says:

    The issue with that strip is not the length, it is runway surface and weather conditions. We flew in last fall and the forest service was allowing the outfitter to graze over 20 horses on the runway at night. The runway had been destroyed by stampeding hooves and dust bathing as well as the shoreline was muddy and torn up by the horses. I can’t believe I cannot find any awareness of this issue and don’t know if it is continuing after filing a complaint with the forest service. This activity cannot be good for the trout.

    • Brett Haverstick says:

      Trista that is very interesting to hear. I appreciate your first-hand account.


August 2014


‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey