Bull Trout Critical Habitat Designation

By Beacon Staff

On Jan. 13, 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a revision of critical habitat rules for bull trout in the Pacific Northwest. The current rules, proposed in 2002 and in effect since 2005 were revised by a Department of Interior deputy assistant secretary President Bush in 2004. Last year, U.S. District Judge Robert Jones found that the “Bush administration plan to protect endangered bull trout was too ‘illogical’ to withstand legal review” and gave the agency six months to come up with a new plan. The new designation pretty much restores the originally proposed rules. The proposal includes 3,094 stream miles and 223,762 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Montana. Yesterday, the USFWS extended the public comment period for the new proposal until April 5.

Bull trout have been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act since 1999 and are currently found in less than half of their historic range. Bull trout populations have declined due to habitat degradation and fragmentation, blockage of migratory corridors, poor water quality, past fisheries management, and the introduction of non-native species such as brown, lake and brook trout. Current populations of bull trout in Flathead Lake, the North Fork and Middle Forks of the Flathead River are estimated at only 3,000 fish. Critical habitat identifies geographic areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a bull trout and other areas which USFWS believes are essential for the conservation of the species.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, “The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve or other conservation area. It does not allow government or public access to private lands. A critical habitat designation does not impose restrictions on non- federal lands unless federal funds, permits or activities are involved. However, it alerts landowners that these areas are important to the recovery of the species.” You can learn more about bull trout and about the Critical Habitat proposal at the USFWS Bull Trout Website. Follow links on the site to submit comments via the web, email or U.S. Mail.

The board of Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited supports the proposed Critical Habitat revision.