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The Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

October 2, 2001

Contact: Susan Martin or Bob Hallock, 509-891-6839
Jenny Valdivia, Portland, Oregon 503-231-6121
Lori Nordstrom 406-449-5225, x208

LOWER KOOTENAI RIVER BURBOT
CONSIDERED FOR PROTECTION UNDER ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will conduct a formal review of burbot (lota lota) found in the lower Kootenai River to determine whether that population of the fish should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

This review is being conducted in response to a petition filed by American Wildlands and the Idaho Conservation League. The Service determined that the petition contained sufficient information indicating that burbot in the lower Kootenai may require listing. Under the Act, the Service now will conduct a complete review including evaluating information submitted by the public.

Specifically, the Service will evaluate the burbot population that spawns in winter in north Idaho’s lower Kootenai River and its tributaries in northwest Montana, Idaho and British Columbia. This species also spends part of its life cycle in the south arm of Kootenay Lake in British Columbia.

"Today’s determination is the first step in the process of determining whether a species warrants listing under the Act, and we encourage the public to provide scientific data and other information on this population of burbot," said Anne Badgley, regional director of the Service’s Pacific region. "If after the review we find the species is in need of protection, we would then propose it for listing. At that point, the public would have another opportunity to comment and submit scientific data about the species. Only after reviewing those comments would we make a final decision."

The Service is asking the public to provide information to help determine: 1) whether burbot in this portion of the range constitute a distinct population segment; 2) the current status and threats to the species; and 3) conservation measures that are in place to protect and recover the species in this portion of its range.

At one time, the lower Kootenai River supported a thriving winter burbot fishery, but declines began around 1960. The population declined further after the installation of Libby Dam in Montana in 1972. Despite numerous fishing regulations, including the closure of all burbot fishing on the river in the early 1990's, the fish’s numbers have continued to decline almost to nothing. Primary threats to burbot include significant water-flow and temperature changes in the lower Kootenai River, which interfere with the fish’s ability to get to spawning grounds, and reductions in the river’s nutrient level that threaten burbot fry’s ability to survive the first stages of life.

The petitioners presented evidence that lower Kootenai River burbot are genetically isolated from burbot in the rest of the river because of the impassable nature of Kootenai Falls in Montana. The evidence also shows that the lower Kootenai River population is behaviorally different from a small population that lives and breeds solely in the north arm of Kootenay Lake as well as from a population above Kootenai Falls. As part of its formal review, the Service is evaluating whether to classify the lower Kootenai River burbot as a distinct population segment because of its genetic uniqueness.

Burbot are the only freshwater member of the cod family. They are a cold water, bottom-dwelling fish that are extremely elongated or eel-like in shape. Their color ranges from dark olive to brownish-black, with a yellowish-white belly. In the lower Kootenai River, burbot can weigh up to 10 pounds and live up to 15 years.

The 90-day finding for the lower Kootenai River burbot was published in the Federal Register on September 28, 2001. Copies may be obtained from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Upper Columbia Fish and Wildlife Office, 11103 E. Montgomery Dr., Spokane, WA 99206.

The public is invited to submit written comments until November 27, 2001, to the supervisor at the above address.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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