A species of West Coast cutthroat trout that breeds in freshwater but sometimes lives in the ocean is at the center of a legal battle over its survival. Today conservation groups sued the federal government to force protection for the small remnant populations of coastal cutthroat trout that still remain in Oregon and Washington. The Clinton administration considered the plight of the trout and found it warranted federal protection but this plan was abandoned by the Bush administration.
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.
“We’re taking steps to bring some balance to how our natural resources are managed, so we don’t wipe out native species in the process,” said Earthjustice attorney Michael Mayer, representing the plaintiffs.
Earthjustice filed the lawsuit today on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Pacific Rivers Council and WaterWatch.
Based on a status review produced by the National Marine Fisheries Service, also known as NOAA Fisheries, the Clinton administration proposed to list coastal cutthroat trout in the Columbia River and southwestern Washington as threatened on April 5, 1999, but did not finalize protection before leaving office. On July 5, 2002, the Bush administration reversed the proposal, even though there wasn’t any new information indicating the trout was faring better.
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.
“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.”
“The coastal cutthroat trout is near extinction in the Columbia River,” state Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Coastal cutthroat need the safety net provided by the Endangered Species Act to survive.”