LIVINGSTON (AP) — Three conservation groups said Friday they have filed suit in a Washington, D.C., federal court to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Yellowstone cutthroat trout as an endangered species.
The agency failed to respond within the mandated 90 days to the groups’ request, which was filed in August 1998, the three groups said in a news release.
The lawsuit was filed by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, based in Missoula; the Montana Ecosystems Defense Council, based in Bozeman; and the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, based in Denver.
They say the FWS “unlawfully delayed issuance of its 90-day and one-year findings, which determine scientifically whether or not Yellowstone cutthroat trout warrant listed status.”
“The pattern of delay is shocking when you consider how completely the state and federal agencies have failed to prevent the cutthroat’s decline and possible extinction,” said Steve Kelly of the Montana Ecosystems Defense Council.
“We filed a petition requesting Endangered Species Act protection for the Yellowstone cutthroat trout over a year ago. They just haven’t responded at all. We haven’t heard a peep,” said Mike Bader, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
Bader said his group hopes the suit will result in a judgment requiring the FWS to proceed with a “full-status review” of the Yellowstone cutthroat’s status, but he fears the process will be a long one.
It took seven years to get the bull trout listed, Bader said, and he sees a pattern of lengthy listing processes forming.
“The Yellowstone cutthroat is really facing a lot of difficult threats,” he said. “Our feeling is putting this off isn’t going to make things better. If we keep putting it off, we’ll lose the fish altogether.”
Threats to the cutthroat include habitat degradation and fragmentation from logging, grazing, mining and associated road-building; dams and water diversions; hybridization of pure Yellowstone cutthroat trout by stocked game fish; and the illegal introduction of fish that prey on or compete with the Yellowstone cutthroat.
Bader said shoreline work like the rip-rapping projects on the Yellowstone River near Livingston pose a threat to the fish.
FWS officials were not familiar with the lawsuit and declined to comment.