The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it turned back a petition to list the Yellowstone cutthroat trout as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act because the petition lacked the biological information needed to trigger federal protection for Montana's state fish.
"Although the number of Yellowstone cutthroat trout stocks in large rivers has declined from historic levels, the Service found that viable, self-sustaining Yellowstone cutthroat trout stocks remain widely distributed throughout the historic range of the subspecies." said Ralph Morgenweck, the USFWS regional director for the Mountain-Prairie Region in Denver.
Yellowstone cutthroat trout are found in about 4,700 miles of stream in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and in about 1,000 miles of stream in Yellowstone National Park. The fish is also found in the park's Yellowstone Lake. In Montana, 40 genetically pure Yellowstone cutthroat trout stocks are known to inhabit more than 430 miles of stream.
"Today's announcement is another positive indication from the federal government that we have taken important steps toward ensuring a future for Yellowstone cutthroat trout," said Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Director Jeff Hagener. "When we can show that we've taken long-term action to enhance and protect native fish populations it can stave off the threat of an endangered species listing and allow us to do what we do best--manage our own natural resources. We're working hard in Montana to conserve and enhance all of our cutthroat trout populations for the long haul and we're pleased the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services appears to agree that our information and actions show we're getting the job done."
In its finding published today in the Federal Register, the USFWS said the petition contains no evidence that the Yellowstone cutthroat trout population as a whole is declining toward extinction. In addition, the USFWS said the petition contains numerous erroneous or contradictory statements.
"On the basis of the best scientific and commercial information available to us, we find that the petition failed to present substantial information indicating that listing the Yellowstone cutthroat trout as threatened under the Act may be warranted at this time," the federal finding concludes.
The petition to list the Yellowstone cutthroat trout was delivered to the USFWS in 1998 by the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Montana Ecosystems Defense Council, and George Wuerthner. Ten months ago, in response to a similar petition, the USFWS announced the westslope cutthroat trout was not warranted for listing as a threatened species. That decision is being challenged in federal court.
In a news release today, the USFWS noted that the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and state fish and wildlife departments are involved in approximately 100 ongoing projects directed toward the protection and restoration of Yellowstone cutthroat trout and their habitats. Yellowstone cutthroat trout conservation efforts in Montana include:
The historic range of Yellowstone cutthroat trout generally consists of the waters of the Yellowstone River drainage and Snake River drainage. In the Yellowstone River drainage, the fish's range includes large regions of Wyoming and Montana. The fish's Snake River drainage range includes large regions of Wyoming and Idaho and small parts of Utah and Nevada.
Today, various Yellowstone cutthroat trout stocks remain in each of these major river drainages in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Nevada.
Most Yellowstone cutthroat trout habitat lies on U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service lands and many of the strongholds for Yellowstone cutthroat trout occur within roadless or Wilderness areas or Yellowstone National Park, all of which afford considerable protection to the fish, USFWS officials said.