Montana Trout Unlimited
6/11/2002 -- Seattle, WA -- Conservationists will go to federal court to stop Plum Creek from ruining one of the last remaining bull trout populations in the West.
“Plum Creek’s habitat conservation plan is based on vague promises, but offers little new or effective protection for the fish,” says Chris Frissell, PhD, Senior Scientist for the Pacific Rivers Council.
Pacific Rivers Council and Trout Unlimited filed a 60-day notice indicating they plan to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Those agencies approved a permit allowing Plum Creek Timber Company to harm 17 species of native fish, including bull trout, steelhead, Chinook salmon and westslope cutthroat trout. Patti Goldman of the environmental law firm Earthjustice represents the groups.
It’s not that we are against habitat conservation plans,” says Bruce Farling of Montana Trout Unlimited. “It’s that we’re against bad habitat conservation plans like the one Plum Creek is implementing.”
Plum Creek’s habitat conservation plan (HCP) covers 1.6 million acres (an area the size of Delaware) stretching from Montana to eastern Washington. This is the largest HCP for private business ever approved by the federal government. An HCP is an environmental management plan for a specific property. Once approved by the federal government, it allows the property owner to harm, harass or damage habitat of species on the Endangered Species list.
Plum Creek’s conservation plan was approved in November 2000. Prior to its approval by the federal government, both Trout Unlimited and Pacific Rivers Council submitted detailed suggestions in an attempt to improve the plan, to make it more sensitive to native fish. However, those suggestions were rejected.
The organizations have spent the last year scrutinizing the final plan and working agreement between the company and federal agencies. “Some of the key elements in the plan were left to Plum Creek’s discretion, so we wanted to take a year to see how the plan really works,” said Mary Scurlock with Pacific Rivers Council. “Now we have plenty of evidence that the plan functions as a license for damaging aquatic habitat rather than a plan for conserving it.”
“Our alarm bells went off at the Enron-like approach to implementation,” says Bruce Farling of Montana Trout Unlimited. “Plum Creek is having its own bookkeeper perform so-called independent conservation audits. The public can't just take it on faith that Plum Creek will act to protect these biologically rich lands.”
Dr. Chris Frissell has conducted extensive scientific research on bull trout, and published a study on the relationship between logging roads and bull trout populations in Montana’s Swan River basin, one of the last remaining strongholds of this species. “It flies in the face of our knowledge about bull trout that this so-called ‘conservation’ plan allows Plum Creek to proceed with concentrated road-building and logging in some of the last few high-quality watersheds where these actions can do the greatest harm to the future of the species,” Frissell said. Bull trout are federally listed as a threatened species.
Plum Creek’s plan contains few substantive benefits for bull trout or other fish species. The plan simply repackages current, harmful practices and adds a few untested and vague new actions, with virtually no scientific analysis of the actual impact of the activity on bull trout and other fish.
“This permit will allow Plum Creek’s logging, real estate sales and grazing to continue substantially unchanged,” says Scurlock. “Meanwhile, native fish populations will continue to disappear on the company’s lands. This plan is a bad deal for the fish and for the public."
“We don’t object to the concept of Plum Creek getting a take permit — in fact cooperating with landowners to create conservation plans is something we pride ourselves on doing well,” says Farling. “Because this permit provides enormous benefits to the company, including 30 years of insulation from prosecution by the federal government, we expect the fish to be granted some significant, ironclad protections. They didn't get them."
Of the 53 “conservation commitments” made by Plum Creek in exchange for the permit, only a few contain concrete improvements over the minimum logging and road building practices allowed under state rules already in place.
Plum Creek, officially a real estate trust, recently reduced its Montana staff, increasing its focus on selling sensitive tracts along key native fish streams in the permit area.
“The federal government failed in its responsibility to protect sensitive species and the fish will suffer needlessly as a result,” says Patti Goldman of Earthjustice. “We want to make sure the plan doesn’t wipe out existing fish populations.”
Trout Unlimited, the nation’s leading coldwater conservation organization, has over 125,000 members in North America. Pacific Rivers Council is a leading river conservation organization with over 1,000 members nationwide. It is primarily active in the western and southeastern United States.
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For more information: Chris Frissell, Pacific Rivers Council, 406-885-1503
Patti Goldman, Earthjustice, 206-343-7340
Mary Scurlock, Pacific Rivers Council, 503-283-1395