The bull trout still qualifies for protection under the Endangered Species Act - and still won’t get it, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to announce this week.
The agency announced a year ago that the Northwest fish warranted such protection, but listing was precluded because other unlisted species were at greater risk and were higher priorities for federal attention.
Under the law, the Fish and Wildlife Service must revisit that conclusion each year. Last winter the agency moved the bull trout up in priority, and a proposal to list the fish seemed likely.
But Trish Klahr of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Boise office said Tuesday that the scientific team reviewing the bull trout’s status recently recommended the fish be moved back to its original, lower priority, and that the species not be listed.
The agency’s Portland regional office has concurred with that recommendation, Klahr said, and it now is being reviewed in Washington.
An official announcement is expected at a regional bull trout conference that starts today in Boise, convened by former Idaho governor Cecil Andrus.
Unless there is some last-minute change, the announcement is likely to please state officials, who have expressed concern about the economic consequences of listing.
It also is likely to further antagonize environmentalists, who claim the Clinton administration is playing politics with listings. They also have criticized the Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent decision not to list the lynx, despite recommendations to do so from most regional offices.
“I think they’re working in general to try to keep listings from happening,” said Dan Funsch of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, which petitioned three years ago to get the bull trout listed. “This administration seems to be backing away from the law.”
The bull trout, a close relative of the Dolly Varden, inhabits streams in Washington state, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana and a corner of Nevada. Bull trout populations in Washington’s Okanogan River, lower Yakima River and Lake Chelan have become extinct. Other populations have dwindled to just a few dozen fish.
The Endangered Species Act permits the Fish and Wildlife Service to not list a species - even one that meets the legal definition of threatened or endangered - if it concludes that other species take precedence in competition for limited federal resources.
Last June, when the agency announced listing the bull trout was “warranted but precluded,” it assigned the fish a priority rating of nine on a scale of one to 12, with one being most imperiled.
In February, however, the Fish and Wildlife Service moved the bull trout up to category three, citing concern about the impact on streams of widespread proposed salvage logging of firedamaged or fire-susceptible forests.
Since then, Klahr said, the scientific team has conducted detailed analyses of the condition of bull trout populations in more than 60 watersheds. It also has considered recent federal and state actions or proposals to protect the fish, she said, including President Clinton’s Northwest forest plan.
Those improvements, together with updated information on the bull trout’s status, allowed the team to recommend moving the fish back to category nine, Klahr said.
But the bull trout’s condition varies by stream, she said: “We have populations that are still being fished. We have populations that are going down the tubes.”
A draft memorandum prepared recently by the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Portland regional office for agency director, Mollie Beattie, says bull trout populations have declined because of logging, irrigation, grazing, dams, mining, poaching and competition from non-native trout.
But most populations do not face a strong enough threat to justify a higher priority rating, the memo says.
It says 10 of the 71 bull trout populations in Washington are declining, 25 are stable, one is increasing, three are extinct, and the status of 32 is unknown.
The memo also notes that, in response to Congress’ recent $1.5 million cut in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 1995 listing budget, Beattie has advised regional offices to focus on species with listing priorities of two or three.
In Washington, all those higherpriority species are plants.
Congress also has barred the Fish and Wildlife Service from listing any species until at least Oct. 1. But the agency still can propose listings.
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