Critical habitat granted to bull trout in Northwest

Cattle Market & Farm Reports, Editorials
Sep 27, 2004
by WLJ
— Washington, Oregon, Idaho affected.
— Announcement less than expected.

For the second time this month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced critical habitat designation for a federally protected species in an effort to comply with a court order. Like the last time, environmentalists have stated displeasure with the announcement while ranching interests are taking a wait-and-see approach on the issue.
FWS last week announced it is designating approximately 1,748 miles of streams and 61,235 acres of lakes in the Columbia and Klamath River basins of Oregon, Washington and Idaho as critical habitat for the bull trout under the Endangered Species Act.
Critical habitat refers to specific geographic areas that are considered "essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and which may require special management considerations." A designation does not set up a preserve or refuge and only applies to situations where Federal funding, permits or projects are involved. It does not affect citizens engaged in activities on private land that do not involve a federal agency.
FWS originally proposed designating approximately 18,450 stream miles and approximately 532,700 acres of lakes and reservoirs back in November 2002. The state-by-state breakdown of that designation is 706 stream miles and 33,939 acres of lakes and marshes in the Klamath Basin of Oregon; 706 miles of streams and 33,939 acres of lakes and marshes; 737 miles of streams in the Columbia River basin of Washington; and 306 miles of streams and 27,296 acres of lakes in the Columbia River basin in Idaho.
Last week's designation, according to FWS, provides credit for ongoing conservation and management efforts for bull trout, and they said that there wasn't the need for as much critical habitat as originally thought.
"As a result of the extensive public comment we received on our proposed designation, we found there were many areas that already had conservation efforts in place and did not need to be designated," said Dave Allen, regional director for FWS' Pacific Region. "In other areas, we found that the social and economic cost of a designation outweighed the conservation benefit."
For example, Allen said FWS determined that Washington-state's Forest Practices Act provided conservation benefits for the bull trout in Washington that are far superior to the benefits provided by a federal critical habitat designation. FWS also determined the Federal Columbia River Power System has spent $3.3 billion on restoration of salmon habitat in the river system over the past 20 years, most of which also benefitted bull trout. The agency also said Montana and Idaho wildlife agencies have aggressive management plans designed to preserve the bull trout population, as well.
After proposing critical habitat in November 2002 for bull trout in the Columbia and Klamath river basins, the Service held nine public hearings and numerous public meetings, reviewed 549 written comments from the public and obtained peer review of its proposal from the American Fisheries Society. The public had a total of seven months to review and comment on the critical habitat proposal and the draft economic analysis.
Last week's announcements was the first of two legally mandated critical habitat designations that will be made for bull trout. In January 2002, FWS and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan reached a court settlement establishing a schedule for the proposal of critical habitat for bull trout. The two environmental groups had sued FWS for not designating critical habitat when it first listed the bull trout as threatened back in 1998.
FWS is also conducting a five-year review on the bull trout to determine whether a change in status is warranted. That review is expected to be finished in 2005. Work on a recovery plan for bull trout is on hold until the review to determine whether the species is threatened is complete.
Environmentalist organizations were displaying much displeasure with the smaller-than-expected critical habitat designation, and there were indications that FWS would be taken to court over that announcement.
Ranching interests that could be impacted by the announcement said they were waiting to see what happens with the second critical habitat designation, and that they will wait for all the court room battles to subside before having too much of a reaction.
There is concern that federally-permitted livestock grazing could be hampered with the designation, particularly if requirements for fencing off stream banks and lakes are mandated. The primary source for stockwater on many federally-managed allotments in the Northwest are streams, lakes and ponds. Several sources said bringing outside water resources to grazing livestock is almost impossible and that the only way to access many of those allotments are by horse.
Last week's bull trout announcement followed up a similar situation earlier this month when FWS announced critical habitat designation for the Mexican spotted owl in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado. In that instance, the amount of acres set aside were also detested by environmentalists, who said they were in the process of mounting a legal challenge to the announcement. — Steven D. Vetter, WLJ Editor