Salt Lake City, UT
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — under pressure from an Earthjustice lawsuit — has reversed its earlier decision and will consider placing the Bonneville cutthroat trout on the endangered species list.
According to an agreement approved in court Oct. 23, the decision will be issued within a year. The suit was filed on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance and Pacific Rivers Council.
“The Bonneville cutthroat trout is headed for extinction,” said 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 Fish and Wildlife Service had denied an earlier petition from the groups seeking ESA protection for the trout. Bonneville cutthroat have been eliminated from roughly 90 percent of their range and continue to be threatened by competition, predation and hybridization from non-native trout; habitat loss and degradation caused by livestock grazing, water withdrawal, logging and mining; and climate change.
“In deciding to deny the Bonneville cutthroat trout protection, the Bush administration clearly got it wrong,” said McCrystie Adams, an attorney with Earthjustice. “We are heartened that the cutthroat trout has a second chance at the protection it deserves.”
In agreeing to reconsider, Fish and Wildlife Service officials admitted that they had not properly considered whether the trout was endangered in a significant portion of its range. Given that the trout has been eliminated from the majority of its range, including the most productive habitats, this is a highly significant omission.
Bonneville cutthroat are primarily found in isolated, high elevation streams, where they are at risk from drought, floods, and fire. These threats will increase substantially, according to nearly all predictions of climate change. This places the trout in obvious danger of extinction.
“The once-abundant Bonneville cutthroat formerly provided an important source of food and sport for Native Americans and early settlers,” said Erik Molvar of 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.”