AWR Blog

Groups Demand Bull Trout Recovery Plan


Citing the fish stock’s “precarious state,” Friends of the Wild Swan and Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed a legal complaint Tuesday in federal court in Portland, Oregon, faulting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to complete recovery plans for bull trout as required under the Endangered Species Act.

Bull trout were once found in about 60 percent of the Columbia River Basin, but today, they occur in less than half of their historic range, with scattered populations in portions of Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Idaho and Montana, according to the USFWS.

A few remain in the Kootenai River and have been the subject of much study by Idaho Fish & Game and the Kootenai Tribe, which has been working for years to restore the species, along with the Kootenai River white sturgeon and other species indigenous to the river.

In the Klamath River Basin, bull trout occur in 21 percent of their historic range. They no longer exist in California.

Bull trout were listed as a threatened species throughout their range, which includes parts of five states, in 1999 by the USFWS.

“Since that time, bull trout populations have remained in a precarious state, as the human-caused threats that led to their listing continue to exist or have even accelerated, according to a an press release issued Wednesday by the conservation groups. These plans are very important,” said Arlene Montgomery, program director of Friends of the Wild Swan. “They provide a road map by identifying the actions that are needed to address threats in each core watershed to recover bull trout.”

“You can’t bring endangered species back from the brink of extinction without a plan,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “These plans provide a road map to recovery by identifying the actions that are needed to realistically address threats to bull trout. And since the law requires them, we have no choice but to go to court to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to follow the law.”

“The Endangered Species Act requires a recovery plan for listed species,” Garrity said. “Each recovery plan must identify: (1) site-specific actions that may be necessary for the conservation and survival of the species, (2) objective, measurable criteria which, when met, would result in the specie’s delisting, and (3) estimates of the time and cost required to achieve the plan’s goals.”

USFWS prepared draft recovery plans in 2002 for the Columbia Basin (Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington) and Klamath (Oregon) bull trout populations and in 2004 for the St. Mary (Montana), coastal Puget Sound (Washington) and Jarbidge (Nevada) populations.

However, over a decade later those plans have yet to be finalized.

“But instead of completing this important tool, the Service has allowed the plans to languish for 12 to 14 years while bull trout struggle to survive,” Garrity said. “We notified the agency a year ago that we intended to file a lawsuit if the recovery plans weren’t completed in a timely manner.
“The Service told us they would have new draft recovery plans completed by Jan. 30, 2014. To make a long story short, that didn’t happen, even though we’ve given them another three months past the agency’s own deadline.”

“… this process has been subject to repeated delays and now appears hopelessly stalled,” according to the complaint filed April 1 in Oregon’s U.S. District Court.

“Accordingly, the Plaintiffs have commenced this action to respectfully request that the Court order the Defendants to comply with their obligations under the ESA In particular, the Plaintiffs request a declaratory judgment that the Defendants’ delay in developing and implementing a final bull trout recovery plan constitutes a violation of the ESA, or, alternatively, of the Administrative Procedures Act (the “APA”).

“The Plaintiffs further request a mandatory injunction requiring the Defendants to promptly develop and implement a draft and then final recovery plan for the bull trout, and order that the Defendants publish a draft recovery plan within 90 days of the Court’s Order,” the complaint says.

Compared to other salmonids, bull trout have specific habitat requirements that include:

— very cold, clean water with little fine sediment in the stream bottom
— complex streams with intact riparian vegetation that provide shade, woody debris, bank stability and deep pools
— connected watersheds that allow fish to migrate from spawning streams to larger rivers, lakes or the ocean

Human activities such as logging, road construction, dams, mining, grazing and urban development have negatively impacted bull trout habitat, causing widespread and significant population declines and local extirpations.

In addition, overfishing and the introduction of exotic species have contributed to the ongoing demise of the species.

“Bull trout can’t wait, they need recovery plans now,” said Garrity. “Their very survival depends on it and that’s what has once again forced our hand to make the agency to follow the law and ensure that bull trout remain viable for future generations.”

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