WASHINGTON (CN) – Blowing off the fact that the Colorado River cutthroat trout’s range has been reduced by almost 90 percent, the Interior Department ruled in 2007 that the fish is not threatened or endangered, the Center for Biological Diversity says in Federal Court. “The only reason the trout was denied protection was because of a Bush policy that called for ignoring a species’ lost historic range when determining whether a species is endangered,” plaintiff Noah Greenwald said in a statement.
The Center for Biological Diversity challenges a Bush-era policy under which the government considers only the current range in consideration of endangered status, which the Center calls “effectively chopping protection off at the knees.”
It claims the Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also dismissed the threats of non-native trout; persistence of only small, isolated cutthroat populations; and the cutthroat’s particular susceptibility to a parasitic disease, to deny it protection.
The Colorado cutthroat trout needs clean, cool mountain streams to survive. But 87 percent of this habitat has been lost to livestock grazing, logging, water diversion and dams, among other factors, the Center says.
Steady introduction of non-native trout allows the sport fish to compete with local species for resources, eats the native young and threatens local trout by interbreeding, weakening the native population’s highly adapted ability to survive, the plaintiffs say.
The species used to flourish in parts of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and extreme northern New Mexico and Arizona. With 58 percent of the remaining range degraded, the cutthroat now survives only in small, fragmented populations.
The species is particular susceptible to whirling disease, a transmittable parasite that causes nerve and bone damage and deformation, making infected fish swim in an erratic, corkscrew-like pattern.
This, combined with the fragmented remaining range, should be enough to overturn a 2007 “not warranted” finding for listing the species, the Center says.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a listing petition for the species in 1999, then sued over a 90-day finding issued 5 years later. A court ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to complete a status review, leading to the 2007 finding that the Center is challenging.
Greenwald, who has a master’s degree in riparian ecology and submitted the petition to the Fish and Wildlife Service after studying the Colorado cutthroat trout for a year, added, “We hope the Obama administration will revoke the damaging Bush policy on ‘significant portion of range’ language, which misinterpreted the law in order to hobble protection, and reconsider listing the trout.”
Lead counsel for the Center is James Dougherty of Washington, D.C.