AWR Blog

Groups Sue Government for Illegally Cutting Bull Trout Habitat

contacts
Michael Garrity, (406) 459-5936
Mike Bader, (406) 721-4835
Jack Tuholske, (406) 721-6986

MISSOULA—The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan conservation organizations filed suit today in Federal Court in Portland, Oregon challenging the federal government decision to slash critical habitat designations for the threatened bull trout by more than 90%.

The outcome of the case may well set national precedent for how critical habitat for threatened and endangered species is proposed and designated.”Rather than doing their job and following the law, the Bush Administration is turning over management of our forests, fish and water to the timber industry,” said Michael Garrity, executive director of the Montana-based Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “Everyone knows that threatened fish and wildlife need habitat to survive and recover, but by pretending that critical habitat is meaningless, they hope to open large areas of bull trout habitat to logging. Failing to protect the bull trout will jeopardize clean water supplies throughout the Northwest.”

“The agency’s final action is based on an extra-legal theory which has no basis in the Endangered Species Act or its implementing regulations,” said Missoula attorney Jack Tuholske, lead attorney on the case. “It’s a direct attempt to nullify one of the most essential elements of the Endangered Species Act.”

“The Fish and Wildlife Service does not have a rational basis for excluding vast areas from critical habitat designation,” said Arlene Montgomery of Friends of the Wild Swan. “Their flawed reasoning and the continued threats to bull trout habitat will not lead to recovery.”

By slashing the proposed designations by approximately 90%, the government has ignored its own scientists and legal findings, the suit claims. The draft proposal for the Columbia and Klamath Basins contained approximately 18,500 miles of rivers and streams, and over 500,000 acres of lakes. The final contains just 1,748 miles of streams and just 61,000 acres of lakes, including zero designations for the State of Montana.

The groups announced they also intend to charge the government with “engaging in a pattern and practice of unlawful behavior” in minimizing critical habitat designations, once statutory timing requirements are met.

Central to the government strategy are one-sided economic analyses which only enumerate the costs of critical habitat designations, with no accounting whatsoever for the benefits of healthy fisheries, cleaner water for human consumption and agricultural uses, and increased economic activity through fishing permits and guides. The government then cites the costs as reasons to eliminate critical habitat. In fact, in the bull trout case, the government went so far as to purge a 56-page section on economic benefits from a final report.

The groups first petitioned the government for bull trout listing in October of 1992, finally prevailing in court seven years later.

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