by Eve Byron, Independent Record
The final rule regarding critical habitat designation for bull trout was released Tuesday, outlining more than 19,000 miles of streams and 488,000 acres of lakes in five states where proposed federal activities must be analyzed to see how they might affect the species.
Representatives from two environmental groups that sued over the handling of bull trout, which are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, praised the final rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. The 400-page document was listed on the federal register Tuesday.
“We are thrilled with this final rule,” said Michael Garrity, executive director for the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “After nine years of fighting we think the bull trout finally has a chance for recovery.”
Garrity said that what’s important about the final rule is that previously, a federal proposal was analyzed and couldn’t move forward only if it would cause the extinction of the entire bull trout population throughout the United States. The new rule says projects can’t adversely modify critical habitat for a species.
“So it’s a much higher bar,” Garrity said. “If a timber sale will put a bunch of sediment into Copper Creek, they could do that before because it wouldn’t cause the entire population to become extinct. Now, if they’re adversely modifying critical trout habitat in Copper Creek, they can’t do that. The same goes for gold mines and shipping giant tar sands equipment that may fall into the Blackfoot River or put sediments into it when they build the turnouts.”
Other well-known streams in Montana that are home to bull trout include Rock Creek and the Clark Fork River. Bull trout are known inhabitants of lakes, rivers, reservoirs and marine shoreline in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Nevada and Montana.