by Laura Lundquist, Chronicle Staff Writer
Two Montana environmental groups are suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for again failing to follow Endangered Species Act requirements, this time as they relate to bull trout.
On Tuesday, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Friends of the Wild Swan filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Portland, Ore., alleging that the USFWS has dragged its feet for more than a decade in developing a recovery plan for bull trout in the northwestern U.S.
“The species is clearly ‘in conflict’ with habitat-altering development activities, making the bull trout recovery plan a particularly high priority,” according to the lawsuit.
After the AWR proposed the bull trout for listing in 1992 and spent seven years pursuing lawsuits and administrative appeals, bull trout were fully listed as threatened throughout the Northwest in November 1999. But a recovery plan has yet to be finalized.
A year ago, AWR informed the USFWS of intent to sue because of the delay. But it held off after USFWS supervisors said the draft plan would be ready by Jan. 30, 2014.
The date has passed, so AWR has gone forward with the lawsuit.
According to the Endangered Species Act and the USFWS Recovery Planning Guidance publication, final plans for the recovery of a species should be published within 2.5 years of listing.
Recovery plans outline measures that are necessary to reduce a species’ risk of extinction, design research priorities and work with other federal and local government entities.
For example, the gray wolf was listed under the ESA in 1978, and a Northern Rocky Mountain Recovery Plan was completed in 1980. Now as a result of the recovery efforts, the Department of the Interior is preparing to declare the wolf recovered and removed it from ESA protection.
AWR first sued the USFWS over the lack of designation of critical habitat for bull trout in 2001.
Almost two years later, the USFWS proposed including a vast area for bull trout habitat: more than 18,000 miles of stream and almost 533,000 acres of lakes in Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.
But when the final habitat rule was published in October 2004, it included less than 2,000 miles of stream and 61,000 acres of lakes, none of which were in Montana.
AWR sued again, suggesting that the change in habitat was politically motivated by USFWS Under-Secretary Julie McDonald, a senior Bush administration appointee.
McDonald resigned under pressure in 2007 before a 2008 U.S. Inspector General report established that McDonald had tampered with scientific evidence, removed species and habitat from protected status and gave internal documents to oil-industry lobbyists and property-rights groups.
Seven ESA rulings were subsequently revised, including the bull trout habitat ruling.
The final habitat rule published in 2010 included almost 20,000 stream miles and 488,000 acres of lake in the four northwestern states plus Nevada.
This isn’t the first example of the USFWS being years behind on habitat designation.
AWR has also sued the USFWS and the U.S. Forest Service for failing to properly designate lynx habitat in a timely manner. Lynx were listed under the ESA in 2000 but a final habitat ruling has yet to be published.