As anglers, hunters, outdoor recreationalists, and conservationists, ‘Wilderness character’ means many things to us. It sustains us by filling our hearts, minds and, sometimes when we are fortunate, our freezers.

One of the most important aspects of Wilderness character to us is, well, its literal native characters, its iconic feathered, four-legged, and finned critters. As the nonprofit Wilderness Watch’s website so aptly puts it, Wilderness Character includes, “the presence of native wildlife at naturally occurring populations levels.” Or, as the great adventurer, naturalist, and author Lois Crisler put it, “Wilderness without wildlife is just scenery.”

So, we are perplexed and saddened by Wilderness Watch’s court case, and the subsequent injunction to stop work at Upper Red Rocks Lake that would protect one of the last and most unique endemic Arctic grayling population in the lower 48 states.

The very real possibility of extinction imminently looms as the number of spawning-aged grayling in this population has declined to critically low levels in the last few years. A species that has been part of the Centennial Valley for millennia going extinct does more to obliterate ‘Wilderness character,’ than approximately two weeks of low impact construction in an area where human impacts are prevalent, from herds of grazing cattle to countless human-made ponds, structures, a campground, adjacent road and nearby airstrip.

Having had the good fortune to hunt and angle for some of the Red Rock Lake Wilderness’s iconic species for decades, we applaud the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and Montana Trout Unlimited for considering the data, science and nearly two decades of collaboration in the Valley to find a solution that might save this imperiled population of grayling.

We hope that the merits of their well-studied plan, which garnered incredible support from a multitude of local stakeholders, to save the grayling will win in court, and the decision is not too late.

It is this kind of collaborative conservation and restoration effort that will enable our kids and grandkids to experience a Wilderness character that includes the Arctic grayling, and the ecosystem they help support. We have all seen time and again, the devastation of a species leaving the landscape forever, and turning our back on this chance to prevent that due to an overzealous reading of the paper definition of Wilderness, does not protect the real, long-term character of wilderness at all.

Brandon Dwyer, President, WestSlope Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Wilderness angler and outdoorsman; Mark Kuipers, past President, WestSlope Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Wilderness angler and hunter; Carey Schmidt, past President, WestSlope Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Wilderness angler, outdoorsman; Larry Vervick, Treasurer, Westslope Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Wilderness angler, outdoorswoman; Kate Hasterlik, Director of WestSlope Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Wilderness angler, outdoorswoman; Carie Graham, Director of WestSlope Chapter of Trout Unlimited, Wilderness angler, outdoorswoman

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