Plan contains a lack of solid conservation commitments and flaws in its scientific foundation
3/17/2000 -- -- Bruce Farling, executive director, Montana TU - 406-543-0054 Greg Munther, consulting fisheries biologist, TU - 406-542-1320 Jeff Curtis, Western Conservation Director, TU - 503-827-5700
March 17, 2000. Missoula, Montana. Trout Unlimited has released its analysis and set of recommendations for the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) proposed by Plum Creek Timber for conserving 17 species and stocks of native salmonids that occur on 1.7 million acres of the company's lands east of the Cascades. Some 1.5 million of those acres are in Montana. Among the fish covered in the plan are species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) as threatened or endangered, including chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout. The plan also covers native species that are candidates for ESA listing, such as westslope cutthroat trout and interior redband trout.
The habitat plan details a list of conservation commitments that the company says collectively will reduce to acceptable levels impacts to the species from Plum Creek's logging, grazing and land sales. In exchange for the commitments, the federal government will consider giving Plum Creek a 30-year "incidental take permit." The permit will insulate Plum Creek from legal challenges that the company is illegally harming endangered species.
"We appreciate Plum Creek's proactive approach for helping native species, and we're open to helping endangered species with the HCP and take-permit approach, " says Bruce Farling, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited. "Most of the species covered in the plan are disappearing and habitat loss is a prime culprit. But we are disappointed the plan doesn't include more hard-and-fast commitments, and that some of its scientific underpinnings are flawed. We can't support the HCP as it's proposed. It simply assumes too much uncertainty for imperiled fish."
Plum Creek's commitments are a combination of efforts that reduce sediment from its road system, improve logging practices in some streamside zones (primarily where bull trout are believed to spawn and rear, which is about 19 percent of the company's lands), reduce impacts from grazing and other activities, and create incentives for the company to seek conservation buyers when it sells or exchanges its lands.
Add One, Plum Creek Timber Proposal, 3/ 17/ 00
Among the flaws identified by TU's review team, which includes specialists on fisheries and the Endangered Species Act are:
*The plan doesn't provide a required estimate of how much "take" of each species will occur. That is, the HCP doesn't quantify how many fish or how much critical habitat is being lost now and how much will be saved by the plan.
*The plan doesn't offer alternatives that avoid loss of native species, thereby giving the public an opportunity to judge the comparative value of Plum Creek's proposed commitments.
*The strategies proposed for monitoring habitat and for changing the plan -should scientists discover certain commitments aren't working - are cumbersome and vulnerable to bias.
*Monitoring of whether the commitments benefit fish will be designed and implemented by Plum Creek employees, and opportunities for independent verification are scarce.
*The plan assumes that protection of bull trout (char) spawning and rearing areas will provide equal amounts of protection for 16 other species and stocks, many of which have different habitat needs than the native char.
*Many of the on-the-ground techniques for reducing sediment and protecting riparian areas are insufficiently described.
*Many commitments, such as those affecting real estate transactions don't include hard targets.
"Our review includes constructive comments on now the HCP could be improved and benefits to fish more easily documented," says Jeff Curtis, Western Conservation Director for TU. "This HCP is simply too critical to be given short-shrift because of how many acres it affects and its precedent-setting potential. If it's approved, it has to work for the fish."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service will examine public comments on the proposed HCP and take permit. A decision on whether the plan will be accepted is expected this year.
Trout Unlimited is North America's leading coldwater fisheries conservation organization, dedicated to the conservation, protection and restoration of trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. The organization has more than 117,000 members in 500 chapters in North America, including over 2,100 members in the Pacific Northwest.