Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Groups threaten lawsuit over Gunsight Lake bull trout plan

| July 10, 2024 6:45 AM


Hungry Horse News

Two environmental groups have filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the Park Service over plans to introduce bull trout into Gunsight Lake in Glacier National Park.

“The Endangered Species Act prohibits creating experimental populations of endangered and threatened species outside their current range except ‘by regulation,’ Glacier Park decided to move bull trout from other lakes in the St. Mary watershed, where native bull trout live, and to put them in Gunsight Lake, where bull trout have never lived,” Friends of the Wild Swan and  Council on Wildlife and Fish claimed in a press release on July 1.

The partially implemented plan by the Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used Rotenone, a common poison that kills fish but also is removed from the environment rapidly, to remove non-native rainbow trout in the pristine and popular backcountry lake just east of the Continental Divide.

That portion of the project was completed last fall. The rainbow trout were stocked in the lake decades ago, back when stocking non-native fish in Glacier was common. Gunsight Lake was likely fishless before that.

The second part of the project was to re-introduce native species to the lake, including westslope cutthroat trout, mountain whitefish and the aforementioned bull trout.

Bull trout are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Glacier over the past several years has made a concerted effort to restore populations of bull trout in its waters where it can, sometimes by physically moving the fish to other waters.

For example, it moved bull trout from Logging Lake upstream to Grace Lake. The Park Service tries to move the fish to lakes above barriers like waterfalls, as one of the main threats to bull trout is competition from non-native lake trout.

Lake trout have decimated once thriving  bull trout populations in the Flathead drainage below the Hungry Horse Dam. 

Gunsight Lake is considered an ideal location because it sits above waterfalls, which block migration of competing fish species into the lake. It’s also at a high elevation, meaning it’s more resistant to climate change as the world continues to warm, putting the squeeze on fish species like bull trout and cutthroat trout that rely on cold water for survival.

But Arlene Montgomery,  program director of Friends of the Wild Swan claims the Gunsight project goes too far and there hasn’t been enough analysis of impacts to source populations – lakes that the fish would come from east of the Divide.

“In this case,” she claimed. “They didn’t do proper oversight.”

The Park Service did not respond to a request for comment on the notice. The re-stocking of Gunsight with westslope cutthroat and whitefish was set to begin this year.

The addition of bull trout was to come in later years of the project, the Park Service said previously.

If the Park Service continues to plan to stock bull trout in Gunsight, the groups will file suit, they said.