In 2002 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied Endangered Species Act protection to the Bonneville cutthroat trout after conservation groups petitioned for its protection. The government's refusal to protect the trout came despite the fact that the trout populations have sharply declined due to competition, predation, and hybridization from non-native trout. Habitat degradation and loss caused by livestock grazing, water withdrawal, logging, and mining are other factors driving the trout toward extinction.
"The Bush administration denied Bonneville cutthroat trout protection, not because the species doesn't need to be protected, but because of hostility to the Endangered Species Act," stated Mike Harris of Earthjustice, who is representing the groups. "Decisions about how to protect our rivers and fish need to be based on science, not politics."
The Bonneville cutthroat -- Utah's state fish -- historically was found in up to 90 percent of the lakes, rivers, and streams in the Bonneville Basin of Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming. The fish's range has steadily shrunk to remnant populations,and the Forest Service estimates the fish are now found in only about 3.7 percent of the basin's historic stream miles.
"The Bonneville cutthroat trout is one of many freshwater species threatened by unwise development of land and water in the West," said Dr. Chris Frissell, aquatic ecologist with the Pacific Rivers Council. "Protection of the Bonneville cutthroat trout and restoration of their natural habitat should benefit many species, helping to save the web of life in fresh waters of Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho."
"State fish of Utah, the once abundant Bonneville cutthroat, formerly provided an important source of food and sport for Native Americans and early settlers," said Jeff Kessler, Utah Field Representative of the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance. "We need to protect these fish from extinction, and restore them, so that they can remain a vital part of Utah's natural heritage."
"The Bonneville cutthroat trout is headed for extinction," stated Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Bonneville cutthroat need the safety net provided by the Endangered Species Act to survive."
The Bush administration has protected only 32 plants, animals, and fish to date, compared to 512 species protected during the Clinton administration and 234 during the elder Bush's administration. The administration has denied the safety net of the Endangered Species Act to more species (51) than it has protected.