TU Says Babbitt's Endorsement of Native Fish Habitat Plan for Plum Creek a Mistake
11/28/2000 -- -- Contact:
Bruce Farling, Executive Director, Montana Council, Trout Unlimited: (406) 543-0054
Steve Moyer, Vice President for Conservation Programs, Trout Unlimited: (703) 284-9406
November 28, 2000, Missoula, Mont….Trout Unlimited says that Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt's approval of a plan that allows Plum Creek Timber Company to harm threatened fish habitat in exchange for promises to conserve the fish is well intentioned but misguided.
Babbitt will be in Missoula, Mont., November 29, to sign an agreement for a habitat conservation plan (HCP) and "incidental take permit" that gives Plum Creek a 25-year federal permit to degrade the habitat of 17 native fish, including endangered salmon, steelhead and bull trout, in exchange for the company's implementation of certain commitments aimed at reducing harm to the species. The plan covers 1.5 million acres of Plum Creek lands in Montana, and another 100,000 acres in Idaho and Washington, comprising a huge portion of the range for native Westslope cutthroat and Endangered Species Act-listed (ESA) bull trout. HCPs and incidental take permits are authorized under the federal ESA.
"Though we agree with Secretary Babbitt that habitat plans and take permits hold promise for protecting dwindling species on private land while also reducing financial burdens to landowners, we vigorously disagree with him that Plum Creek's plan delivers much conservation for fish," said Bruce Farling, Executive Director of Trout Unlimited's Montana Council.
"This plan essentially protects Plum Creeks' status quo operations, while adding a few bells and whistles and a ton of complicated process that in sum will not significantly reduce harm to fish," continued Farling. "In exchange, the company gets 25 years of legal insulation from lawsuits claiming it is harming endangered species."
Last spring Trout Unlimited enlisted professionals in fisheries and habitat planning to analyze Plum Creek's draft habitat plan. TU, which has never opposed the idea of Plum Creek obtaining a take permit, released an 80-page report that pointed out scientific and legal flaws in the plan, as well as detailed recommendations on how to make the plan work for fish and the company. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, which must approve the plan, adopted a few of TU's recommendations. However, much of the plan and permit remains unchanged.
"The precedent this plan establishes for large private landowners, as well as state forests, is simply too important to ignore," said Steve Moyer, TU's Vice President for Conservation Programs. "If Plum Creek's plan is to be a model for habitat planning for endangered trout and salmon, the fish are in trouble. We think Secretary Babbitt, as well intentioned as he is, ought to ask for improvements in the plan."
The plan Babbitt is approving is flawed because it:
- never details specifically how Plum Creek's ongoing operations are harming, or "taking," native fish. Thus it is impossible to measure exactly how the company's conservation commitments will reduce the specific impacts that are harming each of the 17 targeted fish.
- allows Plum Creek to harm the habitat of 17 different species, subspecies or stocks of native fish, even though the company has never inventoried where all these species occur on its land, nor how company operations specifically affect them.
- would leave too few large trees in stream corridors, thus ensuring that the large woody material needed for forming critical habitat components, such as deep pools and sediment traps, will continue to dwindle on streams on Plum Creek lands.
- its streamside management commitments do not guarantee that enough trees will be left to provide shade for temperature control along streams in summer and winter.
- provides little additional protection for headwater tributaries that provide critical spawning and rearing habitat for Westslope cutthroat trout.
- The ability of the agencies to modify the plan in the future should they determine the conservation commitments aren't working will be hampered by a convoluted, adversarial and time-consuming process that gives the benefit of the doubt to Plum Creek's economic goals instead of to the fish. This "adaptive management" process will make it extremely difficult to substantially modify any portion of the plan within 10 years if ever, meaning logging, road building and real estate development that is unduly harming native fish could continue for a large portion of the permit period.
- Data collection of indicators that might demonstrate whether the plan is working, such as stream temperatures or sediment information, will be done by Plum Creek instead of independent field monitors. Scientific studies that Plum Creek will use as references for determining the impacts of its activities will not be subjected to independent evaluation. Thus much of the information the enforcement agencies will use to determine whether the plan is working will be developed by the company.
- The evaluation process on whether the plan is being implemented is rife with bias. For example, audits that determine whether the plan is being fully implemented will be done by staff that, though supposedly impartial, must still be credentialed by a timber industry trade group. Two of three of the auditors must be experienced in logging, and Plum Creek must approve who the auditors are. In addition, audit results demonstrating whether Plum Creek is fulfilling its obligations under the plan must be reported to Plum Creek, which in turn then gives the information to the federal agencies that must enforce the plan.
Trout Unlimited is the nation's largest trout and salmon conservation group. Its mission is to conserve, protect and restore North American's trout and salmon and their watersheds. TU has 125,000 members nationwide organized in 500 local chapters. TU has 2,500 members in Montana.