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For the week of February 28 through March 6, 2001

Yellowstone cutthroat denied listing

Express Staff Writer

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that a petition to list the Yellowstone cutthroat trout as a threatened species does not warrant the action.

The Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Montana Ecosystems Defense Council and Oregon-based activist George Wuerthner petitioned the service in 1998 to list the best-known native trout of the Intermountain West.

In all, there are 13 subspecies of cutthroat trout. A petition to list the westslope cutthroat trout, found primarily in western Idaho, Montana and Canada, was denied last year by U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Yellowstone cutthroat are found primarily in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, and their populations have steadily declined due to interbreeding with rainbow trout, a decline in appropriate habitat and inconsistent stream flows, according to Trout Unlimited western native fish coordinator Scott Yates.

Trout Unlimited did not support the petition for listing, Yates said, because the organization thinks the species’ populations are still viable.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists found Yellowstone cutthroat to inhabit approximately 4,700 miles of waters in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, according to a USFWS press release. That’s about 10 percent of the species’ historic habitat.

"Although the number of Yellowstone cutthroat trout stocks in large rivers has declined from historic levels, the service found that viable, self-sustaining stocks remain widely distributed throughout the historic range of the subspecies," said Ralph Morgenweck, Fish and Wildlife regional director.

In Idaho, Yellowstone cutthroat inhabit streams totaling 1,629 miles in 13 watersheds, all within the species historic range. Idaho Fish and Game, however, recognizes the species’ decline and has labeled it a "species of concern."

Most Yellowstone cutthroat habitat lies on lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service.

Yellowstone cutthroat have bright yellow bodies, with rose-colored flanks and orange-red slash marks under their jaws ¾ which gives the species its popular name. They are generally distinguishable from other cutthroat subspecies by the pattern of large black spots that appear on the fish’s body.

The Yellowstone cutthroat’s historic range consists of the waters of the Snake River upstream from Shoshone Falls in Idaho and the Yellowstone River drainage in Wyoming and Montana, downstream to the Tongue River.

"This should be a wake-up call," Yates said. "These fish are greatly reduced from where they were historically."

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