The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has told a federal judge in Portland that it will propose listing bull trout as an endangered or threatened species.
Listing the fish would place new restrictions on logging, mining, road-building, livestock grazing and dam operations in Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
“It’s going to have a big effect on jobs,” said Don Jensen of the Associated Logging Contractors.
Listing bull trout could make it easier for logging opponents to stop timber sales, said Joe Hinson, executive vice president of the Intermountain Forest Industry Association.
“I imagine the remnants of the Forest Service timber sale program, which has already been reduced 75 percent in the last six or eight years, will decline even further,” he said. In the Panhandle, timber harvest on Forest Service land is about a third of what it was 10 years ago, according to IFI.
Hinson also said fishing bans are possible under the proposal, although a spokesman for the wildlife agency said that was unlikely.
The proposal was made in a brief filed Monday with U.S. District Judge Robert Jones in Portland, who will decide whether to accept it.
The brief responds to a 1992 lawsuit filed by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Montana-based Friends of the Swan to protect bull trout.
“I’d be a lot more excited about this if it happened in 1994,” said Steve Kelly of Friends of the Swan. “The delay has cost the fish, it’s cost the taxpayers and it’s cost the agency a lot in public trust.”
The agency said it would list the Klamath River and Columbia River populations of bull trout based on data collected in 1994, when the fish first was reviewed for listing.
That includes bull trout in Idaho, except those in the Jarbidge River drainage near Nevada.
The environmental groups did not want the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider newer information in its decisions, including Idaho and Montana bull trout recovery efforts, because they did not want to delay the listing any longer.
“Certainly nothing has been done in Idaho or Montana that has reversed the fortunes of bull trout,” Alliance Executive Director Mike Bader said.
He called Idaho Gov. Phil Batt’s bull trout recovery plan “long on rhetoric and short on substance.”
But limiting the decision to the 1994 records does not allow the government to include rules allowing anglers to accidentally catch bull trout, Fish and Wildlife spokesman Doug Zimmer said. That aggravates concerns that entire rivers and lakes could be closed to all fishing.
“Someone might sue on that issue,” Hinson said. “There’s a Pandora’s box waiting to be opened.”
In the Idaho Panhandle, bull trout are off limits to anglers already. Tributaries to Upper Priest Lake are off-limits to all fishing because they are a stronghold for spawning bull trout and cutthroat trout, said Chip Corsi, fisheries biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
It’s been that way for years, Corsi added. Wholesale bans of fishing elsewhere are unlikely, he said.
Listing the bull trout also could impact Washington Water Power Co. dams on the Clark Fork River.
“It may mean some pretty expensive modification to provide for fish passage, or changes in operations, but those are things we’re already looking at,” said Corsi, who’s a member of a group working on relicensing the dams.
The government proposal could be ready for public comment in 60 days.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT IT MEANS The listing would extend the effects of the Endangered Species Act into areas untouched by the declaration of Snake River salmon as endangered.