Conservation Groups Sue USFWS over Incomplete Bull Trout Recovery Plan

sartoreBTIn 1998, bull trout (Salvelinus confluentis) throughout the northwest, were listed as a Threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. In 2002, the Service published a Draft Recovery Plan for the Columbia River and Klamath populations, but that plan has yet to be finalized. Populations of native bull trout throughout the Flathead watershed continue to be imperiled due to habitat degradation and predation by nonnative lake trout. We continue to lose individual sub-populations   across the basin and a current controversy involving Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes is in part due to sparse guidance from the federal government and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in particular.

On Tuesday, April 1, 2014 the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and the Friends of the Wild Swan filed suit in U.S. District Court in Portland, OR against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for again failing to follow Endangered Species Act requirements as they relate to bull trout. Under the ESA, the USFWS is required to produce a recovery plan within 2.5 years of listing. USFWS had promised to produce a plan by Jan. 30th. When that failed to happen the groups filed their promised suit. The suit alleges that the USFWS has dragged its feet for more than a decade in developing a recovery plan for bull trout in the northwestern U.S.

AWR also sued the USFWS over a lack of designation of critical habitat for bull trout in 2001.

Almost two years later, the USFWS proposed including a vast area for bull trout habitat: more than 18,000 miles of stream and almost 533,000 acres of lakes in Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

But when the final habitat rule was published in October 2004, it included less than 2,000 miles of stream and 61,000 acres of lakes, none of which were in Montana.

AWR sued again, suggesting that the change in habitat was politically motivated by USFWS Under-Secretary Julie McDonald, a senior Bush administration appointee.

McDonald resigned under pressure in 2007 before a 2008 U.S. Inspector General report established that McDonald had tampered with scientific evidence, removed species and habitat from protected status and gave internal documents to oil-industry lobbyists and property-rights groups.

Seven ESA rulings were subsequently revised, including the bull trout habitat ruling.

The final habitat rule published in 2010 included almost 20,000 stream miles and 488,000 acres of lake in the four northwestern states plus Nevada.

The current lawsuit alleges that “Although the Defendants have acknowledged the importance of complying with this mandatory duty with respect to the bull trout, at present a final recovery plan has not been developed, much less implemented .. Indeed, although the Defendants initiated the recovery plan process more than a decade ago, this process has been subject to repeated delays and now appears hopelessly stalled.”

In 2008, the USFWS again determined that bull trout should remain an ESA-listed species. On April 1, 2013, the plaintiffs published a Notice of Intent to use USFWS, noting that “Indeed, more than a decade has transpired since the Service released its first draft recovery plans in 2002 and 2004 .. As set forth in the NOI, the Defendants’ lengthy delay in formulating a bull trout recovery plan is without legal justification and in violation of the ESA Accordingly, the Plaintiffs requested that the Defendants undertake prompt action to develop and implement a final recovery plan for bull trout.”  ”The agency’s failure to timely develop and implement a recovery plan for the bull trout therefore violates the ESA.”

The lawsuit asks the court  ”To issue a mandatory injunction ordering the Defendants to promptly develop and implement a recovery plan for listed populations of the bull trout, and in no case to delay publishing a Notice of Availability for the draft recovery plan for more than 90 days from the date judgment, and to establish a deadline for the final recovery plan within 6 months of the close of public comment on the draft plan.”

Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited fully supports the intent and pursuance of this lawsuit and will follow and report on the case as it develops.

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