Earthjustice, representing the Center for Biological Diversity, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Pacific Rivers Council and WaterWatch, filed a formal 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for illegally denying protection for Columbia River and southwestern Washington populations of the coastal cutthroat trout under the Endangered Species Act.
“The coastal cutthroat trout is near extinction in the Columbia River,” states Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Coastal cutthroat need the safety net provided by the Endangered Species Act to survive.”
Based on a status review produced by the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Clinton administration proposed to list coastal cutthroat trout in the Columbia River and southwestern Washington as threatened April 5, 1999, but did not finalize protection before leaving office. On July 5, 2002, the Bush administration reversed the proposed rule, even though there wasn’t any new information indicating the trout was faring better.
“The Bush administration denied coastal cutthroat trout protection, not because the species doesn’t need to be protected, but because of hostility to the Endangered Species Act,” states Michael Mayer, an attorney with Earthjustice, representing the groups. “Decisions about how to protect our rivers and fish need to be based on science, not politics.”
The Bush administration has only protected 31 plants, animals, and fish to date, compared to 394 species protected during the Clinton administration’s first term and 234 during the first Bush administration. The administration has in fact denied the safety net of the Endangered Species Act to more species (45) than it has protected.
Coastal cutthroat have evolved a unique strategy for survival, with some fish spending their entire lives in small tributary streams, while others become anadromous, migrating to the ocean and returning to spawn similar to salmon. The greatest concern is for ocean-migrating populations, whose migratory corridors are severely threatened by habitat loss caused by logging, grazing, hydropower, and other land and water use.
“The coastal cutthroat trout is one among many fish and other species now 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 coastal cutthroat trout and restoration of their natural habitat should benefit many species, helping to save the web of life in fresh waters of the Columbia River and beyond.”
“Generations of Oregonians grew up fishing for coastal cutthroat trout in rivers like the Sandy and the Hood,” said John DeVoe, Executive Director of WaterWatch of Oregon. “We need to protect these fish from extinction, and restore them, so that they can remain a vital part of Oregon’s natural heritage.”
Coastal cutthroat trout are a unique and beautiful fish that was once abundant across the Pacific Northwest. Their name is derived from the brilliant slash of orange or red that usually marks their lower jaw line. Resident cutthroat living in streams may only be a few inches long as adults, while sea-run cutthroats may reach a length of 20 inches or more.