NDOW Bull Trout Status Report Lacks Evidence to Support Agency's Claims of Stable Populations
Outcome of South Canyon Road talks may have lasting effect on Jarbidge River fish
6/12/2000 -- -- Contact:
Matt Holford, Executive Director, Nevada Council, Trout Unlimited: (775) 778-3159
Joe McGurrin, Director of Resources, Trout Unlimited: (703) 284-9407
Elko, Nevada, June 6, 2000…An independent, detailed critique commissioned by Nevada Trout Unlimited (NVTU) of the Nevada Division of Wildlife's (NDOW) status review of the state's bull trout reveals serious flaws in its methods, assumptions, and conclusions. The critique was conducted by two fisheries biologists with the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society (WDAFS), a society of over 3,500 fisheries scientists from 13 Western states.
The NDOW report, released last year, paints an optimistic picture of the stability and range of Nevada's Jarbidge River native bull trout - North America's southernmost population - which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has designated as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and suggests that listing status is unwarranted. However, the WDAFS reviewers - both professionals involved in bull trout work who remained anonymous to ensure impartiality-found NDOW's conclusions lacking in credible evidence and based largely on suspect scientific methods.
Further, the WDAFS reviewers, using the same data as NDOW, found that the Jarbidge River bull trout threatened status was indeed warranted, and that improvements in fish surveying methods and data quality were needed to more accurately assess bull trout status. The WDAFS reviewers' findings confirm earlier critiques of NDOW's report by outside independent biologists and organizations, as well as by TU's National Director of Resources Joe McGurrin, all of which reached similar conclusions.
"These fish have been run through all the hoops of the federal listing process, and the credible evidence all points to protection under the ESA," said McGurrin. "What this review confirms more clearly than ever is that NDOW's arguments didn't hold water then, and don't hold water now."
Jarbidge River bull trout reached their current threatened status via an emergency listing as endangered in August 1998, following catastrophic habitat destruction along the Jarbidge's West Fork at the hands of Elko County road crews using heavy equipment to illegally rebuild a washed-out section of South Canyon Road. By statute, the fish were upgraded to threatened in April 1999. The NDOW status report was fully considered as part of that listing process.
Court-ordered mediation is taking place in Elko among USFWS, the U.S. Forest Service, The Jarbidge Rebels, and Elko County to resolve longstanding disputes over rebuilding South Canyon Road and the subsequent impacts that would result on Jarbidge River bull trout habitat.
"We know bull trout are in trouble in the Jarbidge, and we need a sound scientific framework in place to guide us toward recovery," said Matt Holford, Executive Director of TU's Nevada Council. "What this review tells us is that we need a better process than NDOW has currently provided to determine the extent of the risk to the fish and the protections afforded by the law to counter that risk."
Among the deficiencies the WDAFS reviewers identified in NDOW's report were:
- An insufficient level of detail in fish sampling methods
- Unsubstantiated assumptions regarding historical range and distribution of bull trout
- Unreasonable and unsubstantiated assumptions that fish habitat is free from threat - both natural and human-caused
- Overly optimistic assumptions about bull trout extinction risks relative to current population sizes
- Fish sampling sites chosen for data collection did not represent actual conditions or were biased toward higher-quality habitat with closer access
- Statistical flaws in data assessment
- Failure to utilize available methods for more accurate samples and assessment
- Failure to account for long-term historical perspectives of fish habitat and natural cycles
- Faulty assumptions regarding the migratory nature of bull trout that would support extinction resistance
To request a full copy of the review, e-mail Matt Holford.