Steve Kelly

It’s been decided. Glacier National Park won’t be deterred from sprinting ahead with its grand experiment to use poison to kill rainbow trout planted in Gunsight Lake a century ago. Back then, Gunsight Lake had no fish.

Rather than restore Gunsight to its original (fishless) condition, Park managers want to introduce three new species: bull trout, cutthroat trout hybrids (whatever that is exactly) and mountain whitefish. What could possibly go wrong with an experiment so grand as this?

Does anyone remember what happened to the kokanee salmon in Flathead Lake? I sure do. They all died when Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks broke the delicate food chain when they introduced mysis shrimp to engineer bigger kokanee salmon.

According to the Park’s reasoning, rotenone is fast and effective at killing off undesirable fish. The rainbow must go. The problem is that rotenone (a rat poison, now banned for use against rats) kills non-targeted aquatic species too – indiscriminately.

The risks are self-evident. Taking risks while in a big hurry, without thorough programmatic planning, or legitimate biological analysis, is in my mind the height of foolishness.  Glacier officials are not interested in alternative kill methods, which they say, “take too long.”

Now, this is where I must stop and remind myself, and others, that the park is planning to deploy this poison using helicopters (the sounds of modern warfare), transport equipment (more noise pollution), poison (chemical pollution), transplanted fish (biological/ecological pollution) and a motorized boat to spread the evil poison in an area the Park recommended to Congress for official wilderness designation.

In the meantime, the Park is committed to (at least on paper) manage recommended wilderness areas as wilderness.  Never trust a bureaucrat (federal government agent).

I can assure you these magnificent, high-elevation backcountry landscapes belong in the national wilderness system and are included in a bill sponsored by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) entitled the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Act (S. 1531), currently being considered in the U.S. Senate.

This proposal is a full, frontal assault on the very wilderness characteristics the Park and Glacier National Park Conservancy – the NGO providing the financial means to implement this experiment – purport to work so hard to protect.

Commerce, pseudo-science, and jobs seem to have trumped the Wilderness Act's foundational mandates to protect ‘untrammeled’ wild country and preserve opportunities to experience solitude in Nature.

The whole point of protecting wilderness is to allow some small remnant of land to exist/persist where Nature’s processes determine the diversity of species and quality of the habitat upon which they depend.  Human intervention should be minimized, not flaunted.

The last thing Glacier National Park’s threatened species like grizzly bears and lynx need is to be harassed inside Glacier National Park’s wildlands by overbearing bureaucrats with helicopters, vague planning guidance, an obsessive and hurried implementation schedule weighted heavily in the direction of exploitation, excessive bureaucratic control, or a greater focus on funding and jobs than the health and function of the whole ecosystem being manipulated.

And for what?

This imaginative and creative experiment to ‘create a cold-water refuge’ comes with unjustifiable risk to the greater St. Mary watershed downstream.

A wiser approach would be to slow down, take a ‘hard look’ at all the options and consider no action that threatens the St. Mary River aquatic ecosystem and the last native bull trout population east of the Continental Divide – or the de facto wilderness in and around Gunsight Lake.

There is no quick fix to the ecological problems we face.

Glacier National Park and its private funders at Glacier National Park Conservancy would do well to return to the basic ethical principle of “non-maleficence,” or in other words, try to refrain from doing any harm first, before taking any action intended to do good.

Call the Superintendent of Glacier (406-888-7800) and the Glacier National Park Conservancy (406-892-3250) to demand that they withdraw this ill-advised project immediately.

Steve Kelly is a wildlife and native fish activist, artist, gardener and state coordinator for the Montana Green Party who resides in Bozeman.