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Fish & Wildlife | Ecotrope

So long, Bush-era bull-trout policy

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is quintupling the amount of protected habitat for the Northwest’s endangered bull trout, expanding a controversial Bush-era plan that excluded federal lands from the critical habitat designation.

Bull trout currently occupy about half of their historic range in the Columbia River basin. The new plan maps out about 18,975 miles of streams and 488,252 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Nevada that U.S. Fish and Wildlife deems to be “critical habitat” for recovering the species. In Washington, 754 miles of marine shoreline are also being designated. The designation will take effect in 30 days.

OPB’s Rob Manning has covered this issue in the past. Here’s an excerpt from his story early this year about the proposed habitat expansion:

Joan Jewett is with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s office in Portland.  She says the change would require federal agencies to consult about any potential developments in the expanded habitat area.

Jewett: “So for example if it was a proposed timber sale on forest service land, the forest service would have to consult with us on whether the project might have any effects on, in this case, bull trout. One, whether it would jeopardize the continued existence of the species. And two, whether it would have an adverse modification of the critical habitat.”

Jewett says Fish & Wildlife recommended a similar expansion about 6 years ago. But in 2005, the Bush Administration designated the current, much smaller area.

Later, an inspector general’s report found that a Bush Administration appointee had inappropriately interfered with decisions about endangered species, including the bull trout.

Fish and Wildlife’s latest proposal would reverse that Bush-era policy.

After filing three lawsuits on the issue, environmental groups say they’re happy with the results of the new bull trout habitat designation:

“This is a vast improvement and will go a long ways towards recovering bull trout,” said Arlene Montgomery of Friends of the Wild Swan.

“We are thrilled with this final rule, said Michael Garrity of Alliance for the Wild Rockies, “after nine years of fighting we think the bull trout finally has a chance for recovery.”

Jewett spoke with me today about the new habitat plan, explaining that it will add “an additional level of analysis” to the Endangered Species Act consultations already taking place in habitat occupied by the bull trout.

Chief among the projects that would now require some extra scrutiny, she said, are timber sales on federal lands, irrigation withdrawals, road-building and development in wetlands. Cities, counties and states will also have to take the habitat protection into account when planning development.

Bull trout consultations are already required on about 96 percent of the newly designated critical habitat, Jewett said. About 4 percent of the areas don’t have bull trout on them now. Most of the areas are also considered critical habitat for salmon, she said, so they’re already subject to ESA reviews.

The news comes two years after Bush administration appointee Julie MacDonald resigned after an investigation found she had gotten inappropriately involved in the science of endangered species protections.

The New York Times recently reported on a warning from Obama’s Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar against political co-opting of science. The story mentions the problem with MacDonald.

Endangered species

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