Protecting Critical Habitat for Threatened Bull Trout on the Payette

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated 9,671 stream miles and 197,915 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Idaho as critical to bull trout conservation—many of which are found on national forests including the Payette. The Fish and Wildlife Service designates as critical habitat the rivers and streams essential to bull trout conservation, which require special management and protection, since bull trout occupy less than half their historic range, and their territory continues to shrink due to climate change.

The U.S. Forest Service is required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service when newly designated critical habitat for threatened species like bull trout may be affected by plans for forest roads (travel management plans). Forest roads dump sediment-laden stormwater into streams and rivers, increasing water temperatures and smothering juvenile fish. Forest roads block fish passage due to undersized culverts and split apart important spawning and rearing fish habitat. And frequently, forest roads actually cross streams that are designated as bull trout critical habitat.

In this case, the travel management plan was finalized in 2009, the critical habitat was designated in 2010, and the agencies never evaluated the impacts of these roads and associated motor vehicle use on bull trout critical habitat, which differs from impacts to the species itself.

Representing WildEarth Guardians, we filed a case on Sept. 21, 2016 under the Endangered Species Act to force the Forest Service to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on how an extensive road network on the Payette National Forest affects bull trout critical habitat.

As a result of our efforts, the Forest Service agreed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the effects of the Payette’s motorized vehicle route system on bull trout critical habitat. That process is expected to be completed in 2017, and WELC will ensure that this process is completed on time and in a meaningful way.

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John Mellgren: Bio | Docket

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