Federal Plan Would Cut Back Bull Trout Habitat
WASHINGTON A recovery plan being finalized this week would sharply reduce the amount of federally designated critical habitat for the threatened bull trout in three Western states and eliminate federal requirements for such habitat in Montana.
The new plan, to be announced Wednesday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, would designate nearly 1,750 miles of streams and 61,235 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Oregon, Washington and Idaho as critical to the bull trout's survival under the Endangered Species Act.
No streams or lakes would be set aside by federal mandate in Montana.
The new figures represent about 10 percent of totals announced in November 2002, when the agency had said it planned to designate more than 18,000 miles of streams in the four states and 500,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs.
Environmental groups immediately denounced the plan, saying it could lead to the extinction of the bull trout in the Columbia and Klamath River basins.
"It looks like the Bush administration has totally given in to the timber and mining industries and ignored the benefits of clean drinking water for the public," said Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a Montana-based environmental group that has long battled the Fish and Wildlife Service over bull trout protection.
The latest recovery plan follows settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Alliance and other environmental groups.
Craig Manson, assistant Interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, said Tuesday the reductions in habitat designations were not as severe as they appeared. Instead, he said the figures represent a new approach that gives credit to states, tribes and other federal agencies for ongoing conservation and management efforts that benefit bull trout.
"We think these efforts for the most part provide a superior way of protecting bull trout than (federal) designation of critical habitat," Manson said.
Manson and other federal officials praised a Montana plan that they said could eventually lead to sufficient recovery of the species to enable bull trout to again be caught for sport.