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More bull trout habitat proposed

Feds overturning Bush-era decisions

This photo released by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks shows a juvenile bull trout.  (File Associated Press)
This photo released by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks shows a juvenile bull trout. (File Associated Press)
Jeff Barnard Associated Press

GRANTS PASS, Ore. – In another reversal of Bush administration Endangered Species Act policy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to more than quadruple habitat protections for the bull trout, a fish that has been harmed by logging, mining and grazing on federal lands.

The agency on Wednesday proposed designating 23,000 miles of streams and 533,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Nevada as critical habitat. The area includes more than 3,300 miles of shoreline within the Clark Fork River Basin, plus areas within the Coeur d’Alene River basin and Lake Coeur d’Alene; and the Kootenai, Clearwater and Salmon River basins.

The proposal is part of the Obama administration’s continuing efforts to correct problems identified by a 2008 inspector general’s report that found improper political influence affected several Endangered Species Act decisions by the Bush administration, said Michael Bean, special counselor to the assistant secretary of Interior for fish, wildlife and parks.

The agency wants to base all decisions on science and interpretation of the law, Bean said.

“We would certainly like to be in a position where our decisions are not challenged as frequently and certainly not challenged as successfully” as the Bush administration’s were, he said.

The bull trout is not a trout, but a char, and needs clean, cold water to survive. It no longer swims in about half of its historic range, due to warmer and muddier waters caused by logging, mining, dams and grazing.

Typical of high-profile fish and wildlife, all the significant actions by the federal government to restore healthy populations have come out of lawsuits brought by conservation groups, many dating back to the Clinton administration.

Two Montana conservation groups, Friends of the Wild Swan and Alliance for the Wild Rockies, initially petitioned Fish and Wildlife to list bull trout as a threatened species in 1992. They followed up with six lawsuits to force the agency to comply with the law along the way, winning every one.

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