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More From The Oregonian

Agency estimates bull trout costs

The tab for efforts to sustain the threatened species and its habitat could run to $300 million in 10 years



The cost of protecting the bull trout and its habitat in the Columbia and Klamath basins could reach $230 million to $300 million during the next 10 years, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The economic impact report, released Monday, could lead the federal government to pare down some of the thousands of miles of stream habitat originally proposed as critical for sustaining the threatened species in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the secretary of interior has the authority to exclude lands from the habitat designation after weighing the costs against potential benefits for a listed species.

For bull trout habitat, dam operators are likely to incur more than half of the total costs as they pay for improved fish passage and give up electric generating capacity to boost in-stream flows, the report said. In the Willamette River alone, operating costs will climb by more than $4 million a year at flood-control dams run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Curtailed timber harvests on federal lands account for the second-largest share of the projected costs, followed by loss of irrigation water and limits on mining. Federal agencies stand to pick up three-quarters of the total cost. The rest would fall on private entities, including electric utilities, mining companies and farmers -- in particular those who depend on irrigation water from the mid-Columbia and Yakima rivers. The report said reductions in water delivered by the federal Bureau of Reclamation could "significantly impact" 90 to 160 small farms in Central Washington.

Degradation of habitat and other problems have reduced bull trout to about 50 percent of their historic range in the Northwest. The fish was listed as threatened in 1998 when two small Montana environmental groups, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan, won a lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The government exaggerated the costs of protecting habitat and ignored the economic benefits, such as safeguarding mountain watersheds that supply pure water, said Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

Joan Jewett, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency will take public comments into account when reaching final decisions, due in September. But she said most of the projected costs will be incurred regardless of the size of critical habitat. In much of the Columbia Basin, for instance, the presence of threatened or endangered bull trout, salmon or steelhead already are placing limits on dam operations, water withdrawals and timber cutting.

Critical habitat designation for bull trout would result in additional requirements for federal oversight only in cases where the habitat is not occupied by the fish, Jewett said. About 14 percent of the proposed critical habitat is either unoccupied or has unknown occupancy.

The service will accept public comment on the cost analysis and proposed critical habitat until May 5. Details are posted on the Web at http://pacific.fws.gov/bulltrout/.

Joe Rojas-Burke: 503-412-7073; joerojas@news.oregonian.com






Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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