The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday announced it would not push for an endangered species designation for bull trout in the coming year, but governors from Idaho and Montana say they are working toward its recovery anyway.
Michael Spear, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional director, announced at a bull trout symposium in Boise that his agency still considered the fish qualified for an endangered listing.
But he said other species in the Northwest face a greater peril, and the service was lowering the bull trout’s priority from a higher “3” designation on a scale of 1 to 12 to a “9” rating.
“We have 102 species in the 1 to 8 categories,” he told former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus’ “Solving the Bull Trout Puzzle” gathering at Boise State University. “There are 66 in the 1, 2 and 3 categories.”
While Fish and Wildlife was concerned enough to give the bull trout a 3 rating in January because of degradation of the clear streams it needs to survive, the states’ and Forest Service’s efforts show the recovery effort is on the way, Spear said.
“We haven’t made a final decision,” he cautioned. “But clearly, there is a greater interest in the bull trout and it isn’t being ignored. This is how the Endangered Species Act is supposed to work.
“The states have said they want a bigger piece of the action with endangered species,” he said. “Fish and Wildlife has been too quick to list species and grab authority from states in what is largely a resident species.”
The bull trout inhabits streams in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, western Montana and a corner of Nevada. Conservationists warn there are few viable populations left, largely because of sediment from logging and other industries.
“I’m pleased by the announcement from the federal government,” Idaho Gov. Phil Batt said. “This is what Montana and I are asking them to do. It places the responsibility on us, however. We must come up with feasible remedies or we could face federal action.”
Batt said reviving the bull trout could be easier than Idaho’s salmon runs because it is difficult to determine whether actions like spilling water at the dams or drawdowns work with the migratory fish.
“I have witnessed and participated in the painful and mostly fruitless contortions associated with the salmon issue,” Montana Gov. Marc Racicot said.
But he enthusiastically outlined Montana’s efforts to preserve the bull trout without the Endangered Species Act kicking in.
A restoration team including government officials, loggers, tribes and conservationists are considering a number of steps. They include improving grazing near streams, citizen anti-poaching groups, land exchanges and altering hydroelectric projects.
Volunteer groups for each of the 12 watersheds which historically contained bull trout populations are being formed for their advice, he said.
“It is wrong to take a political approach to a scientific issue,” he said.
Dave Wright, supervisor of the Panhandle National Forest in Idaho, serves on the Inland Native Fish Strategy Team. He predicted Montana will submit an interim conservation strategy this fall and Idaho by December. Washington and Oregon plans will arrive later, he said.
The federal government is preparing environmental impact statements for the Columbia River Basin. The interim strategies will serve until those statements are released and the public has reacted, Wright said.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Swan View Coalition and Friends of the Wild Swan in Montana went to court to list the bull trout as endangered. But Alliance Director Mike Bader said Andrus reduced their involvement in the symposium to a “spectator status.