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November 19, 2019

Contact: Arlene Montgomery, Friends of the Wild Swan 406-886-2011
Mike Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies 406-459-5936

Conservation groups Friends of the Wild Swan, Save the Bull Trout and Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed a lawsuit yesterday in the Missoula federal district court challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s bull trout recovery plan.

The Plan fails to insure the long-term survival and recovery of the fish, ignores the best available science, and ignores its own previous findings about the status of bull trout and what they need for recovery. Instead it relies on inadequate criteria for recovery devoid of any population or habitat measures.

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) requires that recovery plans contain “objective and measurable criteria”. This Plan does not, there are no population targets or habitat standards. For example, the plan allows an arbitrary 25% of bull trout local populations in the Coastal, Mid-Columbia, Upper Snake and Columbia Headwaters Units to be extirpated without consideration of whether those populations are significant genetically or essential to achieve recovery. This is a total reversal of the Service’s 2010 designation of bull trout critical habitat that identified unoccupied habitat that is essential for expanding, not contracting the range of bull trout.

At the time of listing (1998-1999) bull trout numbers had already been reduced by 60%. Under this plan bull trout local populations can be lost yet bull trout will be “recovered”.

“This plan allows bull trout populations to decline even further and doesn’t address the looming threat of climate change,” said Arlene Montgomery, Program Director for Friends of the Wild Swan. “Instead of ramping up protections for bull trout we are seeing standards being gutted from Forest Plans because of this weak recovery plan. The Fish and Wildlife Service is continuing on a path that will lead to less fish than when they were listed. That’s not recovery.”

The ESA also requires that a recovery plan address the same five factors that were considered when a species is listed will also be considered when a species is delisted. This recovery plan does not. Those factors are:

• The present or threatened destruction, modification or curtailment of its habitat or range
• Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific or educational purposes
• Disease or predation
• The adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms
• Other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.

The focus of the recovery plan is to “effectively manage and ameliorate the primary threats in each of the six recovery units at the core area scale such that bull trout will persist in the foreseeable future.” However, the plan does not contain habitat standards or population criteria so it is not possible to gauge whether threats are being “managed” and bull trout numbers are increasing.

The Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the decline of bull trout is primarily due to habitat degradation and fragmentation; blockage of migratory corridors by roads, culverts or dams; poor water quality from warm temperature, sediment or pollutants; past fisheries management practices such as introductions and management of non-native fish; impoundments, dams, or water diversions; and non-native fish species competition and predation. Climate change is an additional threat to the cold water that bull trout need to survive.

“The impacts have been well-documented over a long period of time,” Mike Garrity, Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies explained. “Yet, the Recovery Plan issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service fails to clearly identify and address those threats. Fact is, the “plan” doesn’t even call for actually monitoring bull trout populations to see if they are recovering, continuing to decline, or even test for genetic inbreeding.”

Since 1993 these groups have had to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service to require them to comply with their obligations under the ESA – first to list bull trout, then to designate its critical habitat, and now to establish a recovery plan for the species that will lead to their conservation, recovery and eventual de-listing, not extinction.

Why Bull Trout are Important
Bull trout need the coldest, cleanest water of all salmonids. Their stringent habitat requirements make them an excellent indicator of water quality.

The Five C’s characterize good bull trout habitat:
• Clean water with very little fine sediment in the stream bottom. Fine sediment fills up the spaces in the spawning gravel, restricts oxygen flow and smothers bull trout eggs.
• Cold water temperatures are very important for bull trout. If water temperatures rise above 59 degrees F then it creates a thermal barrier that restricts migration and use of available habitats.
• Complex streams with intact riparian vegetation to provide shade, woody debris, bank stability and deep pools.
• Connected watersheds allow the fish to migrate. Bull trout spawn and rear in stream habitats. At about two years of age they migrate from their spawning stream and mature in lakes or rivers, traveling up to 150 miles. They return to their natal stream to spawn but unlike salmon make the journey between stream and lake many times in their life.
• Comprehensive protection and restoration of bull trout habitat must done be throughout the range of this native fish.

Please find a copy of the complaint attached.

Bull Trout Recovery complaint filed 11.18.19



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