Idaho And Environmentalists Object To New Federal Plan To Save Bull Trout

Oct 1, 2015

Credit screen grab fws.gov / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wednesday released a new recovery plan for the bull trout. The agency listed it as a threatened species in the late 1990s. Bull trout live in Idaho and four other western states. The new plan divides the fish’s territory into six sections. Mike Carrier, head of Fish and Wildlife’s Idaho office says in some sections, like in Oregon and Washington, bull trout are struggling.

“In Idaho, in the Upper Snake for most of the core areas, there are not significant threats to bull trout because most of the bull trout occur on public lands that are in pretty good shape,” Carrier says. “And there are not many passage barriers or others threats to bull trout.”

Carrier says what threats there are to Idaho’s bull trout are fairly easy to address.

This salmon cousin is picky about its habitat. It needs very clean, very cold water with many interconnected streams, rivers, ponds and lakes. Loss of habitat is blamed for its decline.

Fish and Wildlife says the bull trout now lives in less than half the territory it used to occupy. It disappeared from California but still lives in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Montana and Nevada.

The Idaho Governor’s Office of Species Conservation, which tends to be critical of federal regulations, called the rough draft of the new plan “completely unacceptable.” It objected most to the timelines which would keep the state and landowners working to protect the bull trout for decades.

Before the final draft was released, office program manager Mike Edmondson told KBSX he feared the time outlined for recovery efforts would still be too long.

“To look at a timeframe of 20 years is just something that is a very large burden to bare,” Edmondson says. “[Idaho bull trout] have maintained or increased their levels throughout the late 90s, through the 2000s to today. We advocate that bull trout should not be listed in Idaho.”

Now that it’s been released, Edmonson says his office will review the plan closely.

He is not optimistic however, that this final plan will incorporate the state’s suggestions. He says Idaho’s Governor’s Office of Species Conservation will, “…evaluate every option available for Idaho to seek regulatory relief.” 

Fish and Wildlife’s Mike Carrier says it is possible the bull trout could be taken off the threatened list in Idaho before other states, but adds there are significant biological and bureaucratic hurdles to clear before that could happen. 

Meantime another Mike, Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies says, “This is not a recovery plan it is an extinction plan.”

A lawsuit by the Alliance and the group Friends of the Wild Swan prompted the release of the plan at this time.

“The plan allows an arbitrary 25 percent of bull trout local populations in the Coastal, Mid-Columbia, Upper Snake and Columbia Headwaters Units to be extirpated without consideration of whether those populations are significant genetically or essential to achieve recovery,” Garrity says. “At the time of listing, bull trout numbers had already been reduced by 60 percent; under this plan bull trout local populations can be lost yet bull trout will be ‘recovered’.”

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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