US judge blocks water pipeline in Montana that was meant to boost rare fish

Aug 3, 2023, 9:59 AM

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A U.S. judge blocked a proposed water pipeline through a wilderness area in southwest Montana that was intended to help a rare fish species that’s in sharp decline due to habitat loss, warming temperatures and other pressures.

The mile-long pipeline was intended to move oxygenated water that’s beneficial for fish from a creek to a lake in the Red Rock Lakes Wilderness — winter home for one of the last few populations of Arctic grayling in the Lower 48 states. The fish are prized by many anglers and known for their sail-like dorsal fins.

U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy said in a Wednesday ruling that environmentalists who sued to stop the pipeline raised valid concerns that its construction would disturb the wilderness area, where motor vehicles, roads or structures are largely prohibited under federal law.

The number of grayling in Montana’s Centennial Valley, which includes the Red Rock Lakes area, plummeted from 1,131 fish in 2015 to 73 fish last year. Federal wildlife officials in 2020 decided protections for Montana grayling were not needed because of ongoing conservation efforts.

Among those efforts was the pipeline project that was scheduled to begin construction as soon as this month. By piping in creek water — which becomes more oxygenated as it splashes downstream — officials hoped to offset a drop in oxygen in the lake, caused when it freezes over and aquatic plants die, sucking oxygen from the water as they decompose.

Molloy said other attempts to increase oxygen levels for grayling were unsuccessful. Those have included equipment to stir lake water so it would not fully freeze.

“The record indicates that the agency is experimenting with a new management approach that it thinks will work, but is likely not a final solution,” Molloy wrote. He added that even if it might help in the short term, the plaintiffs had “raised a serious question” about whether the pipeline complied with the Wilderness Act.

“The mere possibility that the proposed action may aid in Arctic grayling conservation is not enough to create necessity,” he said.

Representatives of the groups that sued over the pipeline — Wilderness Watch, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Gallatin Wildlife Association, and Yellowstone to Uintas Connection — have pushed the wildlife service to instead address human impacts to grayling. Those include fishing and depleted flows in rivers where the fish spawn because of water withdrawals by farmers.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service chose a course of action it knew would violate the Wilderness Act, rather than address the root causes of grayling decline,” Wilderness Watch Executive Director George Nickas said in a statement.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service representatives did not immediately respond to questions about the ruling.

A separate lawsuit from a different group of environmentalists is trying to force the federal agency to protect the species throughout the Upper Missouri River basin of Montana under the Endangered Species Act. Grayling also live parts of Canada and Alaska, where populations are considered healthy.

Wildlife advocates petitioned federal officials to protect Arctic grayling in 1991. Officials determined in 1994 and again in 2010 that protections were needed, but they were never imposed because other species were given a higher priority.

United States News

Associated Press

3 Columbia University administrators put on leave over alleged text exchange at antisemitism panel

NEW YORK (AP) — Columbia University said it has placed three administrators on leave while it investigates allegations that they exchanged unprofessional text messages while attending a panel discussion about antisemitism on campus. The university said the administrators work for its undergraduate Columbia College, which hosted the panel discussion “Jewish Life on Campus: Past, Present […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Man charged in shooting that critically wounded Philadelphia officer, police say

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A 36-year-old Philadelphia man was charged Sunday with attempted murder in connection with a shooting that critically wounded a police officer after a traffic stop, police said. Ramon Rodriguez Vazquez also faces charges that include aggravated assault and home invasion, police said. The 31-year-old officer and his partner stopped a car carrying […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

California boy, 4, who disappeared from campground found safe after 22 hours alone in wilderness

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A 4-year-old California boy who wandered away from a campground in the Sierra National Forest was found safe after spending 22 hours alone in the wilderness, authorities said. A search-and-rescue team of about 50 officers and volunteers set out around 11 a.m. Thursday after the child was reported missing from the […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

One man died and five others were hospitalized in downtown St. Louis shooting

ST. LOUIS (AP) — One man is dead and five others have been wounded in a downtown St. Louis shooting, police said. Police believe women were fighting in a park when men interfered and drew firearms, according to social media posts from the agency. The man who died was in his mid-twenties, police said. Five […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

Michigan sheriff’s deputy fatally shot pursuing a stolen vehicle in Detroit

DETROIT (AP) — A Michigan county sheriff’s deputy was fatally shot while pursing a suspected stolen vehicle in Detroit, the Oakland County sheriff’s office said Sunday. Bradley J. Reckling, who was on duty in an unmarked car, was following a 2022 Chevy Equinox Saturday evening after the vehicle was reported stolen earlier in the day […]

7 hours ago

Associated Press

Authorities search in rural Colorado for suspect in shooting that left 1 dead, 2 injured

ALAMOSA, Colorado (AP) — Officers went door to door in a rural area of southern Colorado on Sunday as aircraft searched overhead for a man suspected of shooting three people, killing one, and then fleeing on foot into farmland after a failed carjacking. Suspect Henry Corral, 44, should be considered armed and dangerous, said police […]

7 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Sanderson Ford

3 new rides for 3 new road trips in Arizona

It's time for the Sanderson Ford Memorial Day sale with the Mighty Fine 69 Anniversary, as Sanderson Ford turned 69 years old in May.



Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

US judge blocks water pipeline in Montana that was meant to boost rare fish