Bull Trout Are Fighting Words in the West

     BOISE (CN) — Environmentalists have cast another lawsuit in a long-running fight to protect the threatened bull trout, claiming the federal government refused to update a road plan that is contributing to the fish’s demise.
     WildEarth Guardians sued the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Sept. 21, for failing to “reinitiate and complete consultation” of the impacts of the Payette National Forest’s 2007 travel management plan, which maps out roads, trails and motor vehicle use in the forest. This is at least the sixth lawsuit filed this year to protect the bull trout.
     Payette National Forest covers 2.3 million acres in west central Idaho. Bull trout there are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
     WildEarth Guardians says the extensive and “decaying” forest roads are causing water temperatures to rise, further endangering a species that requires cold, clean water to thrive.
     “The Forest Service failed to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure its forest roads, among the top threats to imperiled bull trout populations, do not hinder the fish’s recovery,” WildEarth said in a statement. “Forest roads dump sediment-laden storm water into streams and rivers, increasing water temperatures and smothering juvenile fish. Forest roads block fish passage due to undersized culverts and split apart important spawning and rearing fish habitat.”
     Roads are not the problem, the group says. It says the government is obligated to take another look at its travel plan in light of new information involving global warming.
     “New studies regarding the impacts of climate change reveal that the Payette’s 2007 travel plan may affect bull trout and its designated critical habitat in a way, or to an extent, not previously considered,” the complaint states. “This new information shows that climate change is affecting bull trout and its critical habitat by warming stream temperatures, altering stream hydrology, and changing the frequency, magnitude, and extent of climate-induced events including floods, droughts, and wildfires.”
     WildEarth says it cited several recent scientific articles on climate change and bull trout habitat in a July 2016 letter that the defendants ignored.
     “The articles … show the importance of reducing non-climate change stressors to bull trout and their critical habitat, such as open motorized routes and motor vehicle use in or near occupied bull trout waterways,” WildEarth says in the complaint. “These articles indicate the Payette 2007 travel plan may affect bull trout and designated bull trout critical habitat to a greater extent than previously considered.”
     It adds that the Forest Service itself has affirmed the notion that clean waterways are essential to a species whose future hangs in the balance.
     “The Forest Service predicts cold-water refuge streams will play an important role in the future protection and recovery of bull trout in light of anticipated climate change-related temperature increases,” the complaint states.
     WildEarth wants the 2007 Payette National Forest travel plan updated to reflect current road conditions and climate change.
     “Bull trout are struggling to survive and the odds are stacked against them,” WildEarth Guardians “rewilding” attorney Marla Nelson said in a statement. “Habitat loss and destruction, splintering of habitat into smaller pieces, and poor water quality — not to mention climate change impacts — are some of the biggest threats to bull trout. The Forest Service’s extensive and decaying road system is a major source of the problem. We are calling on the agency to reconsider its past management and make smarter road decisions for the future of bull trout.”
     WildEarth asks the federal court to order the defendants to reinitiate and complete consultation “by a date certain as required by ESA Section 7 and its implementing regulations,” plus costs, expenses and attorneys’ fees.
     WildEarth is represented by Dana Johnson, in Moscow, Idaho; and by staff attorneys with the Western Environmental Law Center in Eugene, Ore., and Helena, Mont.

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