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Local Group Critical Of New Bull Trout Recovery Plan

Bull trout
flickr/USFWS Headquarters
Bull trout

A Montana environmental group working on recovery of the threatened bull trout is critical of a new federal plan to save the fish.

"I guess I just don’t see this as being a holistic plan," says Arlene Montgomery.Montgomery is program director for Friends of the Wild Swan in Swan Lake. Her group sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to improve bull trout recovery plans the agency first issued in 2002. The new plan the Fish and Wildlife Service is releasing this week is the result of a 2012 settlement with Friends of the Wild Swan and Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

The new plan aims to recover bull trout across Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and part of northern Nevada. It focuses on threats to the fish including predation by lake trout, and interbreeding with brook trout. As well as the clear, cold water bull trout need getting too warm or polluted with agricultural runoff and sediment.

"That’s a good thing, that they’re on track with threats. But I think they need to have other measures to determine if they’re reaching their goals."

Montgomery says it’s unclear what exactly the Fish and Wildlife Service’s goals are for recovering bull trout, beyond the overall statement that it wants to recover the species to the point that it can be removed from its threatened status under the Endangered Species Act.

She says Friends of the Wild Swan told the agency the plan needs more specifics when they commented on a draft of it last fall.

"There were no population parameters, like how many fish do you have? How many will you need to, sort of, say that you are recovered and that you have a healthy population? And the other thing that is missing are habitat standards. So we think addressing threats is really important, but if you don’t have other metrics, how can you say that you’re successful?"

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan says Endangered Species Act protections could be lifted when stable populations of bull trout are established, and threats have been reduced. The plan says some threats to the fish in Montana have been reduced in the last 25 years, like the amount of logging on public lands that can dump sediment into streams and rivers; but it says increasing residential development and continued de-watering of streams for agriculture pose new challenges for bull trout recovery.

Montgomery says there have been positive developments, like efforts to reduce the number of invasive lake trout in Flathead and Swan Lakes. Lake trout eat bull trout. And she says Glacier National Park is making substantial recovery efforts as well.

"There have been good things that have happened for bull trout, but I think overall things are getting worse."

We’ll have more perspectives on the new recovery plan for bull trout in the coming days. You can see the new draft plan here. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking public comment on it until July 20, and plans to release a final plan at the end of September.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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