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The Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

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

 

May 3, 2005

 Diane Katzenberger   303-236-4578
Wade Fredenberg   406-758-6872 

DRAFT ECONOMIC ANALYSIS OF CONSERVATION ACTION TO
PROTECT
THE SAINT MARY-BELLY RIVER POPULATION OF BULL TROUT RELEASED  

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released an analysis that estimates costs related to the conservation of the bull trout and its proposed critical habitat in the Saint Mary River and the Belly River drainages in northwestern Montana.  Annual costs are estimated to be $325,000 for the period from 2005 through 2024.  The estimate accounts for costs associated with reduced water supply to the Milk River Project, a fish screen at the St. Mary diversion, and future administrative consultation with Federal and State agencies.  Other activities, including recreation and mining, were found to have no cost attributable to bull trout conservation activities. 

In releasing the analysis, the Service also reopened the public comment period on revised proposed critical habitat for the bull trout. The Service will accept public comments on the critical habitat proposal and the draft economic analysis until June 1. 

The bull trout is protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as a threatened species. In June of 2004, the Service released its proposal to designate 88 miles of streams and 6,295 acres of lakes in the Saint Mary and Belly river watersheds as critical habitat for the species. The majority of lands encompassing the proposed critical habitat for this population are either Federally or Tribally owned.  About 45 percent of the lands are located within Glacier National Park, managed by the National Park Service, and another 45 percent are Tribal lands managed by the Blackfeet Indian Tribe.  Nearly all of the remaining 10 percent are private lands on the Blackfeet Reservation. 

Critical habitat is a term in the ESA. It identifies geographic areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management considerations or protection. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or other conservation area. It does not allow government or public access to private lands. Federal agencies that undertake, fund or permit activities that may affect critical habitat are required to consult with the Service to ensure such actions do not adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat. 

“The impact to landowners in Montana from this proposed critical habitat designation, when it is finalized, is expected to be minimal,” said Ralph Morgenweck, director of the Service’s mountain-prairie region.  “We encourage the public to provide comments and any additional information they believe is relevant.  The Service will consider all available information before making a final decision.”  

Areas proposed to be designated as critical habitat for the bull trout include the headwaters of the Saint Mary and Belly River systems in northcentral Montana, along the eastern edge of Glacier National Park.  This area is the only portion of the bull trout range in the lower 48 states that is located east of the continental divide.  The proposed designation includes 88 miles of streams and about 6,295 acres of six lakes, the largest of which are Saint Mary and Lower Saint Mary Lakes.  All of these areas are currently occupied by bull trout 

When specifying an area as critical habitat, the ESA requires the Service to consider economic and other relevant impacts of the designation. If the benefits of excluding an area outweigh the benefits of including it, the Secretary may exclude an area from critical habitat, unless this would result in the extinction of a threatened or endangered species. 

The analysis measures costs associated with potential reductions in water supply to the Milk River Project occurring as a result of late summer and winter minimum instream flow needs in Swiftcurrent Creek between Sherburne Reservoir and the St. Mary diversion as well as the Saint Mary River downstream.  Such flows could reduce the amount of water available for transfer to the Milk River Project.  The estimated costs to the project reflect lost agricultural producer profit. 

In 30 years of implementing the ESA, the Service has found that designation of critical habitat provides little additional protection for most listed species, while preventing the agency from using scarce conservation resources for activities with greater conservation benefits. 

In almost all cases, recovery of listed species will come through voluntary cooperative partnerships, not regulatory measures such as critical habitat. Habitat is also protected through cooperative measures under the ESA, including Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe Harbor Agreements, Candidate Conservation Agreements and state programs. In addition, voluntary partnership programs such as the Service’s Private Stewardship Grants and the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program also restore habitat. Habitat for listed species is provided on many of the Service’s National Wildlife Refuges, and state wildlife management areas. 

Comments on the proposed critical habitat and/or the draft economic analysis may be submitted by June 2, 2005 to: John Young, Bull Trout Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Branch of Endangered Species, 911 N. E, 11th Avenue, Portland, OR  97232, or by fax to (503) 231-6243.  Copies of the analysis may be obtained by downloading it from http://pacific.fws.gov/bulltrout/jcs/dea/index.html or by calling John Young at (503) 231-6194. 

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 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 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 and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies. 

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