Friday, May 2, 2008

Bull trout remain imperiled

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends continued ESA protection for fish


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

Photo by Corey Fisher/Trout Unlimited Bull trout in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon and Nevada require continued protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined.

Populations of wild bull trout found throughout the western United States remain imperiled. The determination by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was announced earlier this week and extends to the population in the Salmon River basin just to the north of the Wood River Valley beyond Galena Summit. Bull trout, predatory cold-water fish that are actually members of the char subgroup of the salmonid family, do not exist in the Big Wood River drainage.

In 1999, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed bull trout as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act throughout its range in the lower 48 states, which covers portions of Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon and Nevada.

In June 1998, the agency had listed a population of the fish in the Jarbidge River system as endangered on an emergency basis after road crews from Nevada's Elko County Road Department reportedly destroyed 27 percent of the river's bull trout habitat while conducting road construction activities. The river system drains remote high desert in northern Nevada and southern Idaho.

The Fish and Wildlife Service announcement comes after the agency completed a five-year status review of bull trout in the five states. In addition to recommending that the existing threatened status for bull trout remain in place throughout the lower 48 states, the review also recognizes that scientists agree that multiple distinct populations of bull trout exist. Further study should consider whether these distinct populations of bull trout merit separate protection under the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Service review states.

"This status review considered information that has become available since the time of listing and included a rigorous analysis by independent scientists and Fish and Wildlife Service managers," said Ren Lohoefener, director of the agency's Pacific Region. "The health of bull trout populations varies by location, but overall the species in the United States still needs protection."

Evaluating the status of distinct populations of bull trout may help the Fish and Wildlife Service account for the varying health of the separate populations of the fish and better focus recovery efforts by states, Native American tribes and others on populations that need help, a news release from the agency states.

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According to Lohoefener, there are many advantages to evaluating whether distinct populations of bull trout exist and need separate protection under the Endangered Species Act. He said they include focusing regulatory protection and recovery resources on bull trout populations in trouble, removing Endangered Species Act regulations where they're not needed and providing more incentives to implement local recovery actions.

"We can analyze effects of projects over a more discrete and biologically relevant area," he said.

Information considered by the Fish and Wildlife Service that has become available since the original listing of the bull trout includes population and demographic trends, genetics, competition with other species and overall habitat condition. The new information also covers the adequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms.

The Fish and Wildlife Service review assessed whether new information suggests that the bull trout population is increasing, declining or stable, and whether existing threats to the species are increasing. The Fish and Wildlife Service also considered whether any new threats have arisen since the species was originally listed.

With the completion of its five-year status review, the federal agency will evaluate whether any of the distinct populations merit protection under the Endangered Species Act. Any proposed change in distinct population segments or listing status would be subject to a separate federal rulemaking process that would include public review and comment.

The five-year status review of bull trout is available at www.fws.gov/pacific/bulltrout/.




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