Michael Garrity, (406) 459-5936
Mike Bader, (406) 721-4835
Arlene Montgomery, (406) 886-2011
Jack R. Tuholske, (406) 721-6986
Threats Remain, Elimination of Critical Habitat a Serious Blow to Recovery
MISSOULA—A new report recently submitted to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) outlines the current status of the bull trout, five years after its listing as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The report concludes that the best available scientific and commercial information indicates that bull trout remain threatened throughout their range in the Northern Rockies and Northwest states and of the 6 factors considered, negative trends are projected for five.
“Unfortunately the saga of justice delayed becoming justice denied for bull trout continues five years after Endangered Species Act listing,” said Michael Garrity, executive director of Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “Rather than celebrating the road to recovery, it’s disheartening to report that bull trout continue on the road to decline and potential extinction in much of its range.”
“Our report shows that bull trout still need Endangered Species Act protection. Threats continue to impact bull trout habitat and populations are not increasing. The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to focus its efforts on restoration and recovery, not delisting.” said Arlene Montgomery, Program Director of Friends of the Wild Swan.
The FWS announced in April 2004 that it was conducting a Five-Year Status Review of Bull Trout pursuant to the Endangered Species Act and that they were seeking professional and public comments.
The 23-page report, along with 23 maps and other exhibits, was submitted by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan conservation organizations, the groups engaged in a seven-year legal battle which resulted in the bull trout listing. It was prepared by Mike Bader Consulting in Missoula, Montana.
The report summarizes the results of population surveys in the Northern Rockies and Northwest which show declining numbers of bull trout and isolated populations at very small sizes. It also outlines several key threats to bull trout including the proposed Rock Creek mine in the Cabinet Mountains, numerous timber sales in bull trout watersheds, high road densities and chronic dewatering of spawning streams. Homesite subdivision is an increasing threat, particularly on lands being sold by Plum Creek Timber Company’s real estate division. There is also a proliferation of real estate driven ski resorts. Introductions and invasions by non-native species such as pike and lake trout are also a threat.
It was also found that the U.S. Forest Service has substantially backtracked on its previous commitment to protection of bull trout watersheds on national forest lands. It shelved its Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Plan (ICBEMP) and retreated to plans found by FWS and the federal courts to be inadequate protection for bull trout. The Forest Service is also issuing numerous exemptions to forest plan road densities standards.
The report cites the wholesale elimination of bull trout critical habitat, including a 100% removal in Montana, as a major setback to recovery efforts. The FWS justified the elimination based on the Montana Bull Trout Restoration Plan. But the report notes that a November 2004 letter from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks states,
“As described above, MDFWP does not and has not requested funding specifically for implementation of the bull trout restoration plan.”
An array of other federal environmental laws and regulations were found to have been weakened since the bull trout listing and schedules for attainment of improved water quality under the Clean Water Act are very long.
“As the attorney for the conservation groups in five separate bull trout lawsuits against the Fish and Wildlife Service over the agency’s repeated failure to follow the law, I find the agency’s sudden interest in doing a status review to be of dubious motive,” said Missoula attorney, Jack Tuholske. “The Service’s limited financial resources should be directed at insuring that critical habitat is properly designated and that actions of other federal agencies don’t further harm the fish. As this Report indicates,bull trout remain in serious trouble, and we have a long way to go to restoring healthy native fish populations in the Columbia Basin,” Tuholske concluded.
The report noted a few bright spots, stating fish passage structures installed on the Atlanta Dam in southwest Idaho and on Rattlesnake Creek dam in western Montana have opened up spawning for migratory bull trout. The decision to remove the Milltown Dam on the Clark Fork River in Montana may also yield significant benefits over time.
Educational efforts and signage at fishing access points are very positive. However, such progress may be outweighed by the Bush Administration decision that it will not breach the four major Snake River dams, blocking movement for migratory bull trout as well as the weakening of regulations.