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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Bull Trout Roil Waters in Federal Court

BOISE (CN) — A furious fight over bull trout has been renewed in federal court, in the ninth lawsuit this year that claims government agencies are refusing to do their duty to protect the threatened species.

The bull trout was also known as the Dolly Varden trout until 1980, when it was reclassified as a separate species. It can grow up to 41 inches long and weigh 32 lbs. The giants migrate from streams and rivers to the ocean and back; full-time inland residents do not grow so big. Its historical range stretched from northern Alberta to Northern California, though it apparently has become extinct in California. They need cold, clean water to survive: 55 degrees Fahrenheit or less.

On Friday, WildEarth Guardians sued the U.S. Forest Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service, saying they are further endangering the trout in Idaho by failing to update forest road plans. Silt and turbidity from road construction can smother and kill the trout directly, and/or raise the water temperature and kill them.

The environmental group says the federal agencies failed to "reinitiate and complete consultation" of the impacts of the Sawtooth National Forest motorized vehicle plan, which is required by the Endangered Species Act.

The Sawtooth National Forest, more than 2 million acres in south central Idaho, was designated the Sawtooth Forest Reserve by President Theodore Roosevelt on May 29, 1905.

In 1972, the forest was redesignated the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA), which includes the Sawtooth, White Clouds and Hemingway-Boulders wilderness areas. The forest is split into four managed units, dubbed the SNRA, Fairfield, Ketchum and Minidoka Ranger Districts.

WildEarth Guardians filed a similar complaint against the agencies regarding the Payette National Forest's road plan on Sept. 21.

In the new lawsuit, WildEarth challenges "defendants' failure to reinitiate and complete consultation under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act. ... regarding (1) the continued implementation and impacts of the travel management plan for the Fairfield Ranger District on the Sawtooth National Forest ('Travel Plan') on bull trout and bull trout critical habitat; and (2) significant new information revealing the Travel Plan may affect bull trout and its critical habitat in a way not previously considered."

WildEarth says the Forest Service has increased mileage of designated motorized trails in more than a dozen watersheds, some by almost 7 miles, where bull trout spawn and rear their young.

In addition to killing the trout through sedimentation and higher water temperatures, road-building can block fish passage due to undersized culverts and split apart important spawning and rearing fish habitat.

WildEarth says the Forest Service must revisit its road plan based on new information not previously considered.

"(T)his new information includes new studies regarding the impacts of climate change that reveal that the 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, including warming stream temperatures, altering stream hydrology, and changing the frequency, magnitude and extent of climate-induced events, including floods, drought and wildfires."

WildEarth cited several supporting studies for the effects of climate change on bull trout habitat.

It seeks a court order that the defendants reinitiate and complete the required consultation, plus costs of suit. It is represented by Dana Johnson, in Moscow, Idaho; and Stuart Wilcox, in Denver.

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