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FWP Defends Federal Decision on Westslope Cutthroat Trout


Wed Jul 26 00:00:00 MDT 2000

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game will intervene if a threatened lawsuit is filed against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and its recent decision not to list the westslope cutthroat trout as a threatened species, FWP officials announced today.

"Montana's successful and on-going efforts to protect and restore native westslope cutthroat trout has made it unnecessary to add Montana's state fish to the nation's growing list of endangered species," said FWP director Pat Graham. "Montana's cutthroat trout restoration effort is a model of species protection, planning, action, and tireless commitment to a natural resource preservation effort that is producing real-life results. The recovery and protection of our state fish will continue to be one of the major conservation efforts of this agency, our governor, dozens of landowners and many state, federal and tribal cooperators."

Last week, some Montana-based conservation interests challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision not to list westslope cutthroat trout as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The groups, represented by the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, filed a 60-day notice on July 20 of their intent to sue USFWS to force a listing.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's decision in April that the westslope cutthroat trout does not warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act was based in part on the fact that the fish currently inhabits more than 23,000 linear miles of habitat in 4,275 rivers and streams located in 12 major drainages and 62 watersheds in the Columbia, Missouri, and Saskatchewan River basins. In addition, it inhabits six lakes in Idaho and Washington and at least 20 lakes in Glacier National Park.

In its April decision not to list westslope cutthroat trout, USFWS said it was "encouraged by ongoing and planned state and local programs, most notably those in Montana, to protect and restore [westslope cutthroat trout] within its historic range."

"In Montana we are accomplishing the on-the-ground and across-the-kitchen-table work that needs to be done to protect and restore Montana's state fish," Graham said. "It is truly unfortunate that we are now faced with devoting those resources toward defending a scientifically sound decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We'd much rather spend the money on protecting westslope cutthroat trout."

Last summer, FWP collaborated with several state and federal agencies and private groups to complete an agreement to conserve and restore the westslope cutthroat trout in Montana's Columbia and upper Missouri river basins. The resulting "Conservation Agreement and Memorandum of Understanding for Westslope Cutthroat Trout in Montana," was the result of more than two years of negotiations initiated by Gov. Marc Racicot at the 1996 Governor's Westslope Cutthroat Trout Workshop.

"This effort did not begin last year or the year before. We were working on securing strongholds for cutthroat trout west of the Continental Divide in the 1970s," Graham said. "Today we have quantified and broadened our goal to maintain all existing pure populations of westslope cutthroat trout and we will work to make sure that at least 10 populations will be distributed throughout the fish's range with each population occupying at least 50 miles of connected habitat. This will continue to provide healthy cutthroat trout populations."

Graham said FWP will continue 20 years of work to:

  • Protect genetically pure westslope cutthroat trout populations.
  • Protect some hybrid populations while determining the role these populations may play in westslope cutthroat trout restoration.
  • Ensure the long-term survival of westslope cutthroat trout within their native range.

"We are proud the U.S. Fish and Wildfire Service recognized our commitment to westslope cutthroat trout conservation." Graham said. "We will continue our work to ensure that there will always be places in Montana for our state fish and for anglers to pursue them."

The westslope cutthroat trout is bright yellow, orange, and red, with the characteristic red slash marks on its lower jaw. It is generally distinguishable from other subspecies of cutthroat trout by the particular pattern of black spots that appear on the body. It is one of a dozen subspecies of cutthroat trout found in the Columbia and Missouri drainages and the Rocky Mountains. The scientific name for westslope cutthroat trout is Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi. The species (clarki) and subspecies (lewisi) names for westslope are a reminder of the explorers Lewis and Clark, who in 1805 first described the subspecies.

Historically, westslope cutthroat were found in the Missouri River upstream of Fort Benton as well as its tributaries including the Judith, Milk and Marias rivers. West of the Continental Divide they were found in the Clark Fork and Kootenai river drainages in Montana and extending downstream into Alberta, Idaho and the extreme eastern portion of Washington. By far the majority of their historic distribution is in Montana and Idaho.