Principal Findings of Trout Unlimited’s Review of the Proposed Plum Creek Native Fish Habitat Conservation Plan
3/17/2000 — — For more information, contact: Bruce Farling, executive director, Montana Trout Unlimited – 406/543-0054 Greg Munther, consulting fisheries biologist for Trout Unlimited – 406/542-1320
1. The proposal does not include estimates of “take,” either under existing management or under the proposed HCP. This makes it impossible to determine exactly how the proposed HCP could aid native fish.
2. The proposal offers no detailed alternatives that avoid a take, thus the public doesn’t get a complete picture of what options are available.
3. The document doesn’t provide sufficient information to allow the services to determine whether the proposed actions mitigates the impacts of incidental take “to the maximum extent practicable.” Practicability appears limited by Plum Creek’s internal business goals, which are described only generally and never enumerated.
4. The adaptive management pathway for the proposed 30-year permit is too complicated and it gives the benefit of the doubt to Plum Creek’s internal business goals instead of to the species subject to the permit.
5. Adpative management needs more sensitive triggers, and the regulatory agencies should not be forced to determine the “statistical significance,” “biological relevance” and “causal linkages” associated with unexpected conditions uncovered by monitoring. The monitoring/adaptive management process in the HCP will make it difficult to respond to unanticipated and unacceptable risks to native fish during the permit period.
6. The HCP needs to consider a broader range of “changed circumstances,” including changes that occur on adjoining lands.
7. The HCP fails to demonstrate that its main ecological objective, protecting spawning and rearing habitat for bull trout (which the HCP says is 19 percent of Plum Creek’s lands), will provide equal protection to all life-history strategies of the native char as well as to the 16 other species and stocks proposed for coverage in the permit.
8. The HCP doesn’t require a final audit prior to complete or partial termination of the permit, thus it’s possible Plum Creek could receive legal insulation from the ESA without fulfilling all its commitments.
9. The HCP needs to include an independent oversight committee to evaluate program compliance and success in achieving biological goals and objectives.
10. The HCP proposes that Plum Creek staff, consultants and lessees collect field monitoring data. The proposal includes no instrument for independent verification of whether monitoring occurs, monitoring methods are scientifically defensible or data is valid. The “third party auditor” to be hired to monitor compliance will only be examining whether monitoring occurs not whether the conservation commitments are effective. Moreover, the auditor will be basing its audit on reports submitted by Plum Creek, instead of independent sources.
11. Some conservation commitments, such as allegiance to the company’s environmental principles or a promise to follow existing BMPs are either not measurable, or they are items that are currently in practice.
12. Proposed commitments for reducing sediment contributions on new and existing roads have significant potential for conservation. But the measures proposed are limited in scope, not defined in quantitative terms and described in a vague fashion. For example, new management practices such as improved drainage will be implemented “when feasible” or “as frequently as necessary.” High-risk sites will be “avoided” and certain impacts “minimized.”
13. Monitoring of the effectiveness of sediment-reduction practices will be done in demonstration watersheds, instead of on-site. Plum Creek proposes extrapolating results from demonstration projects in one watershed to determine the on-site effectiveness of similar practices in another drainage. This approach is fine for studying the general effectiveness of a practice, but it shouldn’t be used for determining whether practices applied elsewhere are absolutely reducing sediment on-site.
14. Riparian management strategies will reduce sources of woody debris recruitment, which is already significantly limited on Plum Creek lands. Woody debris in streams is a key limiting factor for native fish populations.
15. The HCP doesn’t demonstrate that its riparian management strategies will maintain adequate stream temperatures for salmons. The HCP avoids examining how proposed riparian logging will affect winter temperatures, which can significantly affect native fish populations.
16. The conservation commitments for grazing need more detail, improved monitoring schemes and their effectiveness needs to be independently verified.
17. Commitments affecting culverts and migration barriers need refined planning, and field evaluation and design needs should be done by fishery professionals.
18. Commitments involving stream restoration, fish and game enforcement, elimination of harmful water diversions and suppression of brook trout are speculative. No hard targets are established in the HCP.
19. Commitments affecting land disposition would have significant conservation value if they were tied to hard targets (such as commitments to have a set amount of riparian acres placed under conservation easement by the end of the permit period.). The commitments establish incentives for Plum Creek to seek conservation-oriented land deals on some acres, but they don’t guarantee a net gain in conservation. Conservation gains rely largely on the entities receiving Plum Creek lands in a purchase or exchange being disposed to managing the tracts to protect native fish. The procedures under the land disposition commitments are also complicated and they include loopholes that could obscure land deals that have potential to harm native fish.