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Bull trout could lose federal protection status

By Jeff Barnard
The Associated Press

GRANTS PASS - The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said Tuesday that it will review whether the bull trout should remain a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, even before the agency has finished implementing court-ordered habitat protections.

``The purpose of the review is to ensure that the species has the appropriate level of protection under the ESA,'' Fish & Wildlife Pacific Regional Director Dave Allen said in a statement from Portland. ``Reviewing the latest information will also lead to better management and improved conservation of the species.''

Fish & Wildlife spokeswoman Joan Jewett acknowledged that five-year reviews required by the Endangered Species Act have been rare, but Interior Assistant Secretary Craig Manson agreed to this one at the request of Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and the Idaho congressional delegation.

Kempthorne spokesman Michael Journee said the governor believes bull trout are thriving in Idaho, where steps have been taken to improve habitat protections, and getting them off the threatened species list would reduce problems for timber and ranching interests.

Environmentalists who went to court repeatedly to force listings and habitat protection for bull trout in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada and Montana countered that the review was motivated by politics, not science.

Populations of the fish, which need cold, clean water to survive, were designated threatened species in 1998 and 1999.

``The timber industry would like the bull trout delisted,'' said Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a Montana environmental group involved in the court battle. ``It hinders their efforts to increase the cut of national forest lands in the Northwest. (Bull trout) need clearer and colder water than salmon. So they are more susceptible to sediments that go into the stream from logging and road building.''

Environmental consultant Michael Bader said a look at the latest fish counts in bull trout streams show most are just 10 percent to 30 percent of viable populations.

``By doing this five-year status review, they are essentially putting the bull trout recovery plan on the shelf,'' Bader said. ``They are stopping true biological work to do pretty flagrant political work.''

While the review is going on, the Fish & Wildlife Service said, it will suspend work on the draft recovery plan for Columbia Basin bull trout in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, Klamath Basin bull trout in Oregon, and St. Mary-Belly River bull trout in Montana.


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