Friday, February 23, 2001The 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 Cooperative Conservation Agreement for Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout in Montana that outlines goals and objectives for conserving, protecting, and enhancing populations. Cooperators include: FWP, Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the Crow Tribe, U.S. Forest Service, BLM, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Yellowstone National Park.
- The Interstate Memorandum of Agreement for Conservation of Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout among Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, U.S. Forest Service, Yellowstone National Park, and Grand Teton National Park. The agreement is aimed at the conservation and restoration of Yellowstone cutthroat trout within its historic range.
- Establishment of protective fishing regulations where necessary to safeguard important populations of native Yellowstone cutthroat trout and policies that address stocking and transferring fish to ensure disease or other fish are not introduced where they would harm Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
- Establishment of new populations of native Yellowstone cutthroat trout in Black Canyon Creek and Little Bull Elk Creek on the Crow Indian Reservation, and in Bad Canyon Creek, a Stillwater River tributary west of Billings. Genetics and disease testing are completed on the donor population before any fish are moved.
- Habitat improvements through streambank stabilization, riparian planting, fencing, grazing management, and land management in several creeks in the Bighorn, Shields, and Yellowstone river drainages.
- Instream flow improvements through water leases in Big Creek, Cedar Creek, Mill Creek, and Mol Heron Creek in the Yellowstone River drainage.
- Installation of barriers to prevent upstream invasion on nonnative brook trout or rainbow trout that can outcompete or breed with native cutthroat trout in numerous creeks in south central Montana.
- Development of an extensive monitoring process and FWP database to track population status, trends, and distribution.
- Habitat improvements driven by the independently established Shields River Watershed Group and its voluntary land management practices.
- An intensive study on the upper Yellowstone River to determine timing and location of spawning of Yellowstone cutthroat trout and non-native rainbow trout to better understand and manage the two species.
- Establishment of a FWP cutthroat trout conservation, planning and research coordinator with funding assistance from the U.S. Forest Service. The Yellowstone cutthroat trout--which shares the Montana state-fish designation with the westslope cutthroat trout--is bright yellow, orange, and red. It is generally distinguishable from other inland subspecies of cutthroat trout by the particular pattern of black spots that appears on its body.
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.