Federal officials have released a plan to recover struggling bull trout populations in five Western states with the goal of lifting Endangered Species Act protections for the fish.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes lifting protections individually in six recovery units spread over Idaho, western Montana, Washington, Oregon and a tiny portion of northern Nevada when specific requirements are met. The agency said the areas contain distinct populations of bull trout with unique characteristics.
“We think the approach is tactical and appropriate,” said Steve Duke, bull trout recovery planning coordinator for the agency. “We think it focuses on what still needs to be done, and it lets local agencies and those with managerial oversight focus on those areas without having to look at the larger distribution of bull trout.”
Bull trout are a cold water species listed as threatened in the Lower 48 states in 1999. Experts say cold, clean water is essential for the fish.
The plan doesn’t dictate actions but looks at ways to keep water in streams habitable for bull trout. It considers warming waters from climate change that force some populations into upper regions of river systems, Duke said.
“We expect that to continue into the future,” he said.
The draft plan stems from the agency’s settlement last year of a lawsuit by two environmental groups – the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan.
Michael Garrity of Alliance for the Wild Rockies said he’s concerned the agency is looking to define bull trout differently in different regions so federal protections could be removed in some areas while fish are still in trouble in other areas. He said his organization would be against that plan.
“We’re optimistic they’ll listen to us,” Garrity said. “But we’re optimistic because we’ve sued them on bull trout about a dozen times and won each time. If they don’t follow the best available science, we won’t hesitate to sue again.”
Besides warming waters, the bull trout’s survival is threatened by non-native brook trout. If the species mate, it creates a hybrid fish.
Bull trout occupy about 60 percent of their former range, which has remained steady since the fish received federal protection in 1999, Duke said.
Summit Road opens
Hikers and bikers enjoyed plenty of elbow room at the Vista House and 5,886-foot top of Mount Spokane last weekend. The experience will be a little busier on upcoming weekends as Mount Spokane State Park rangers opened the gate to allow motor vehicles on the Summit Road for the summer season last Monday.
Discover Passes are required on motor vehicles.
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