Friday, October 15, 2010

Federal ruling protects trout habitat

Fish & Game questions need for action

Express Staff Writer

Bull trout are distinguished by their light-on-dark spot pattern. Courtesy photo Photo by David N. Seelig

Though conservationists have lauded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's recent designation of critical bull trout habitat as a victory for the fish, state officials say it will likely change little in Idaho, including in the Salmon River basin.

"It has no management change that I can see coming at all," said Bill Horton, state fisheries manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. "Maybe a little more paperwork.

"It gives [the service] greater power to say, 'We need to protect this segment, this area, this stream for bull trout. It allows us to not just advise that this be done, but require it because of the Endangered Species Act."

The designation could protect bull trout from logging and mining operations as well as development. However, Horton said it would not have any impact on existing dams.

"We're not going to undo dams to benefit bull trout," he said.

The most recent designation protects 8,772 miles of streams and 170,218 acres of Idaho lakes and reservoirs. Most of the habitat is located in central and northern Idaho, in the Salmon, Clearwater and Coeur d'Alene river basins. Much of that area is already protected under the federal Wilderness Act.


The bull trout population in Idaho is estimated at well over a million fish, Horton said, and designation may not have been necessary.

"We believe that in Idaho, bull trout are doing very, very well [and] their numbers are stable or increasing," he said. "We don't think the numbers are as dire as the Fish and Wildlife Service does."

Bull trout are a genus of trout known as char, distinguished by their light-on-dark spot pattern and tendency to spawn in the fall.

The fish are classified as threatened throughout Idaho, and have not been available to harvest throughout the state since 1996, when the species was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The designation protects almost 7,000 miles of streams and 100,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Washington and Oregon, as well as 72 miles of streams in Nevada. Montana's critical bull trout habitat will span over 3,000 miles of streams and 220,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs.

Critical habitat for the trout was originally designated by the service in 2005, and was revised this year because an inspector general's report found it was interfered with by former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Julie MacDonald, who has since retired.

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