Michael Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, (406) 459-5936
Arlene Montgomery, Friends of the Wild Swan, (406) 886-2011
Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan conservation organizations filed a formal lawsuit against the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Department of the Interior late Thursday in U.S. Federal Court in Portland, Oregon. The Montana-based groups are challenging the final critical habitat designations for the Threatened Bull Trout in its five-state range.
The organizations object to the blanket reductions that cut the final critical habitat designations by approximately 82% from what was proposed by the agency’s professional field biologists. The proposed critical habitat covered more than 20,000 miles of rivers and streams and over a half million acres of lakes and reservoirs in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Nevada. The final designations encompass just 3,828 miles of streams and 143,218 acres of lakes and zero acres of reservoirs.
Bull trout are a wide-ranging fish that spawn in mountain streams then migrate to rivers, lakes or the ocean to mature and grow. At around age five they return to the stream where they were born to spawn. Unlike salmon bull trout survive spawning and make this journey several times during their life. This migratory life form is essential to the long-term survival of the species because it ensures that in the case of a catastrophic event, such as fire, in their natal stream there are always more fish to repopulate it.
“They ignored well-documented science in this final designation,” said Arlene Montgomery, Program Director of Friends of the Wild Swan. “The best chance that bull trout have for survival and recovery is to ensure that these fish can migrate, this rule does not provide that connectivity.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service also relied on a biased economic analysis that only considered the costs of critical habitat designation and totally ignored the benefits of cleaner drinking water, healthier populations and increased recreational opportunities. The FWS actually cut a 56-page section analyzing these benefits from their report in order to stack the deck against bull trout conservation.
“Recovery and eventual delisting cannot occur without a good critical habitat designation. We think it would be great to stand on the banks and catch 20 pound fish in a clean river – apparently this administration does not believe so.” said Michael Garrity, Executive Director of Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “The Fish and Wildlife Service has ignored their own scientists, gutted the economic analysis and thumbed their nose at federal court rulings. Further delay could cause extinction of bull
Garrity said, “Bull trout are excellent indicators of water quality because they need cold, clean water and streambeds with little fine sediment. Protecting and restoring bull trout habitat also protects water quality providing benefits for fish and people.”