Missoula, Mont., November 21, 2023— The Missoula Ranger District of the Lolo National Forest has published the draft decision notice regarding the terms and conditions for the City of Missoula to decommission the McKinley Lake Dam in the Rattlesnake Wilderness.
The earthen dam on McKinley Lake is one of multiple dams inside the Rattlesnake Wilderness that predate the 1980 Rattlesnake Wilderness designation. The Act that established the Wilderness permitted the holder of the water rights (currently the City of Missoula) to have customary and usual access, including necessary motorized use over and along roads and trails to any facilities and the right to operate and maintain them. The aging dam is at risk of failure, and the city has worked with Trout Unlimited to devise plans to breach the dam to decommission it, to stop spillway erosion and adverse resource impacts from future dam failure.
The Forest Service is responsible for assigning terms and conditions to these actions, since the access needed to accomplish this work is considered beyond normal and customary use. In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, the Forest Service conducted an environmental assessment, with additional wilderness specific analyses, which assessed the minimum motorized and mechanized tools required to meet the project objectives. Through the environmental assessment process, the Forest Service selected Alternative 2, which limits the use of motorized and mechanized equipment for wilderness dam decommissioning activities, while allowing the City of Missoula to complete the project in a safe and efficient manner.
“The Forest Service recognizes and appreciates the coordinated efforts of the City of Missoula and Trout Unlimited to preserve wilderness values and restore wilderness character through the removal of this manmade structure” said Crystal Stonesifer, Missoula District Ranger, Lolo National Forest.
The City of Missoula plans to implement this project during the summer of 2024 following the terms of conditions outlined by the Forest Service.
Additional information about the project can be found at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=63564 including how to object to the draft decision regarding the terms and conditions of the dam removal project.
For more information about the Lolo National Forest, please visit the website at https://www.fs.usda.gov/lolo or follow updates on Facebook and X.