WildEarth Guardians, with representation by the Western Environmental Law Center, filed a lawsuit today in federal court challenging the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to ensure protection for bull trout critical habitat on the Payette National Forest from roads and motorized trails under the Endangered Species Act. Bull trout, threatened with extinction, currently occupy less than half their historic range.
In 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service 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.
The Forest Service failed to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure its forest roads, among the top threats to imperiled bull trout populations, do not hinder the fish’s recovery. 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.
“Bull trout are struggling to survive and the odds are stacked against them,” said Marla Nelson, Rewilding Attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “Habitat loss and destruction, splintering of habitat into smaller pieces, and poor water quality—not to mention climate change impacts—are some of the biggest threats to bull trout. The Forest Service’s extensive and decaying road system is a major source of the problem. We are calling on the agency to reconsider its past management and make smarter road decisions for the future of bull trout.”
“The consultation process ensures that government agencies do not place ESA-listed species at risk,” said John Mellgren, attorney at Western Environmental Law Center. “The Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must reinitiate consultation to ensure that bull trout critical habitat is not degraded by motorized vehicle use on the Payette.”
Bull trout populations are key indicators of stream and forest health. Given the species’ specific requirements for cold, clean water and complex, connected habitat, they reflect an area’s water quality. A decline in bull trout should concern not only fisherman and conservationists, but the public as well—clean water is also a human health concern.
A copy of the complaint is available here.