Office of External Affairs
Mountain-Prairie Region

NEWS RELEASE

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Mountain-Prairie Region
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

January 13, 2010                                                                                                                                        

Contact:  Joan Jewett, 503-231-6211

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Revision of Critical Habitat for Bull Trout

 Draft economic analysis also released, with public meetings and hearings scheduled

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to revise its 2005 designation of critical habitat for the bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus), a threatened species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

 

In total, the Service proposes to designate approximately 22,679 miles of streams and 533,426 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Nevada as critical habitat for the wide-ranging fish. The proposal includes 985 miles of marine shoreline in Washington.

If finalized, the proposal would increase the amount of stream miles designated as bull trout critical habitat in the five states by 18,851 miles and the amount of lakes and reservoirs designated as critical habitat by 390,208 acres. This includes approximately 166 miles of critical habitat proposed in the Jarbidge River basin, where no critical habitat was designated in 2005.  No change is proposed in the 985 miles of marine shoreline in Washington that were designated in 2005.

 

“This proposed revision is the result of extensive review of our earlier bull trout critical habitat proposals and 2005 designation, public comments and new information,” said Robyn Thorson, director of the Service’s Pacific Region. “We voluntarily embarked on this re-examination to ensure that the best science was used to identify the features and areas essential to the conservation of the species.”

 

Bull trout depend on cold, clear water and are excellent indicators of water quality. Protecting and restoring their habitat contributes not only to the recovery of the species but to the water quality of rivers and lakes throughout their range, Thorson said.

 

Once plentiful, bull trout are now found in less than half their historic range. They were listed in 1999 as threatened throughout their range in the coterminous United States.

 

A draft economic analysis, also released today, estimates the potential incremental cost of the proposed revised critical habitat at approximately $5 to $7 million a year over the next 20 years. Many of the potential costs are associated with additional consultation requirements for federal agencies. However, most agencies already are managing their lands and waters to a significant conservation standard due to existing critical habitat designations for salmon and other species and the presence of bull trout in 96 percent of the proposed critical habitat revision. This proposed designation is not expected to add significant additional conservation requirements.

 

Other potential incremental costs stem from possible fish passage improvements at dams, estimated at $2.1 million to $2.5 million a year spread among more than 70 federal and non-federal dams. Again, many of these improvements already are occurring for salmon. No significant impact to regional energy production is predicted.

 

Additional potential expenses, approximately $400,000 to $1.65 million a year, are associated with changes to forest management, such as removal of culverts and efforts to reduce sediment.

 

Comments on the proposed critical habitat revision and the draft economic analysis will be accepted until March 15, 2010.

 

The proposal, developed by a team of federal scientists, is intended to provide sufficient habitat to allow for genetic and life-history diversity, ensure bull trout are well distributed across representative habitats, ensure sufficient connectivity among populations and allow for the ability to address threats facing the species.

 

“We intend to prioritize conservation actions in those habitats most important to the bull trout’s protection and recovery,” Regional Director Thorson said. “We encourage the public’s participation in helping us do this.”

 

The proposal identifies 32 critical habitat units and 99 sub-units on 3,500 water body segments across the five states. These areas are clustered into six recovery units where recovery efforts will be focused.  By state, the proposed designation covers approximately (rounded to nearest whole number):

 

• Idaho: 9,671 stream miles and 197,915 acres of lakes or reservoirs

• Oregon: 3,100 stream miles and 29,139 acres of lakes or reservoirs

• Washington: 5,233 stream miles, 82,610 acres of lakes or reservoirs and

   985 miles of marine shoreline

• Montana: 3,094 stream miles and 223,762 acres of lakes or reservoirs

Nevada: 85 stream miles

 

In some areas, the critical habitat proposal spans shared border designations along the Columbia or Snake rivers. These are:

• Oregon/Idaho (Snake River): 170 stream miles

• Washington/Idaho (Snake River): 37 stream miles

• Washington/Oregon (Columbia River): 304 stream miles

Critical habitat for bull trout applies only to waterways. However, the proposal recognizes that associated flood plains, shorelines, riparian zones and upland habitat are important to critical habitat areas and that activities in these areas may affect bull trout critical habitat. Approximately 58 percent of the proposed critical habitat water bodies occur on federal land, 36 percent are on private land and 2 percent each are on state and tribal lands. One percent or less occurs on land that is a mix of federal/private ownership or federal/state ownership.

 

Under the Endangered Species Act, critical habitat identifies geographic areas that contain features essential for the conservation of a listed species. Critical habitat designations provide extra regulatory protection that may require special management considerations and the habitats are then prioritized for recovery actions.

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 non-federal lands. A critical habitat designation does not impose restrictions on non-federal lands unless federal funds, permits or activities are involved. However, designating critical habitat on federal or non-federal lands informs landowners and the public of the specific areas that are important to the recovery of the species.

 

State-by-state descriptions of the critical habitat units, maps, photographs, general biological information and other materials relating to today’s announcement may be found at http://www.fws.gov/pacific/bulltrout. In addition, a Justification Document, also on the website, has been prepared to explain the Service’s rationale for why each critical habitat unit is essential for the conservation of the bull trout.

 

A series of public informational meetings is scheduled to enable people to learn more about the critical habitat proposal and to submit written comments. The following meetings are planned:

 

• February 2, 2010, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.: Bend, Oregon: Hollingshead Barn, 1235 NE Jones Road

• February 3, 2010, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Chiloquin, Oregon: Chiloquin Community Center, 140 S.1st Street

• February 4, 2010, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.: LaGrande, Oregon: Blue Mountain Conference Center, 404 12th Street

• February 11, 2010, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.: Post Falls, Idaho: Red Lion Templins Inn, 414 East 1st Avenue

• February 16, 2010, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Missoula, Montana: Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Headquarters, 3201 Spurgin Road

• February 17, 2010, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.: Elko, Nevada: Elko Convention Center, Gold Room, 700 Moren Way

• February 23, 2010, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Wenatchee, Washington: Wenatchee-Okanogon National Forest Headquarters, 215 Melody Lane

• February 25, 2010, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Boise, Idaho: Boise Centre on the Grove, 850 W. Front Street.

 

On February 25, 2010, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., the Service will also hold a public hearing in Boise, Idaho, at the Boise Centre on the Grove, following the public meeting. Oral testimony will be accepted during the public hearing. Anyone wishing to make oral comments for the record at the public hearing is encouraged to provide a written copy of their statement at the public hearing.

Requests for additional public hearings must be received by March 1, 2010. Send requests to: Idaho State Supervisor, Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office, 1387 S. Vinnell Way, Room 368, Boise, Idaho 83709.

Bull trout are a cold-water fish of relatively pristine stream and lake habitats in western North America. They are grouped with the char, within the salmonid family of fish. They have the most specific habitat requirements of salmonids, including the "Four C's": cold, clean, complex and connected habitat. Bull trout require the coldest water temperature; they require the cleanest stream substrates for spawning and rearing; they need complex habitats, including streams with riffles and deep pools, undercut banks and lots of large logs; as well as a connection between river, lake and ocean habitats to headwater streams for annual spawning and feeding migrations.

 

Historically, bull trout were found in about 60 percent of the Columbia River Basin. They now occur in less than half of their historic range. Populations remain in portions of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Nevada. In the Klamath River Basin, bull trout occur in 21 percent of their historic range.

The bull trout is primarily threatened by habitat degradation and fragmentation, blockage of migratory corridors, poor water quality, the effects of climate change and past fisheries management practices, including the introduction of non-native species such as brown, lake and brook trout. 

 

In September 2005, the Service published a final rule designating critical habitat for bull trout. That rule was challenged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon and in March 2009, the Service requested a voluntary remand of the rule from the court to address irregularities in the rule-making process and outcome, as identified in a 2008 Investigative Report by the Department of the Interior Inspector General. That report found a former Department of the Interior political appointee had interfered with the final 2005 designation by directing that large areas be excluded from what had been proposed. In July 2009, the Court granted the Service’s request and directed the agency to complete a proposed revision by December 31, 2009, with a final designation due by September 30, 2010. The 2005 designation will remain in effect until a revised designation is final.

 

Written comments on the proposed critical habitat revision and on the draft economic analysis can be submitted by one of the following methods:

 

• Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.

In the box that reads “Enter Keyword or ID,” enter the docket number for this proposed rule, which is FWS-R1-ES-2009-0085. Check the box that reads “Open for Comment/Submission,” and then click the Search button. You should then see an icon that reads “Submit a Comment.”  Please ensure that you have found the correct rulemaking before submitting your comment.

U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: RIN 1018-AW88; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.

Hand deliver written comments at a public informational meeting.

 

We will post all comments on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide.

 

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov

 

 – FWS -- 

 

 

                                              Questions and Answers

                    Regarding the Proposed Critical Habitat Designation for

                                                        Bull Trout

 

                What it Means to Montana’s Landowners and Recreationists

10-02

 

What action is the Fish and Wildlife Service taking?

 

The Service is proposing to revise the critical habitat designation for bull trout throughout its range in five Pacific Northwest states.

 

Why is the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposing to revise the critical habitat designation for the bull trout?

 

The Service is proposing to revise the critical habitat designation for bull trout to address irregularities in the 2005 designation as identified in a report by the Department of the Interior Inspector General. The report found a former Department of the Interior political appointee had inappropriately influenced the outcome of the final 2005 designation by directing large areas of habitat to be excluded from what was proposed in 2004.

 

What is critical habitat?

 

Under the Endangered Species Act, critical habitat is defined as a specific geographic area that is essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may require special management considerations or protection. A critical habitat designation does not affect land ownership or set up a preserve or refuge and only applies to situations where federal funding, permitting, or land is involved.

 

What areas in Montana are being proposed for bull trout critical habitat?

 

In Montana, approximately 3,094 stream miles and approximately 223,762 acres of lakes or reservoirs are being proposed in Deer Lodge, Flathead, Glacier, Granite, Lake, Lewis and Clark, Lincoln, Mineral, Missoula, Powell, Ravalli, and Sanders Counties.

 

All critical habitat being proposed in Montana is currently considered occupied by bull trout.  The proposed critical habitat includes only that lake and river habitat that is below the bankfull elevation (streams) or high water mark (lakes). The high water mark or bankfull elevation is generally recognized as the point where permanent terrestrial vegetation begins to occur.

 

Adjacent floodplains and lands above the high water mark are not proposed as critical habitat.  However, it should be recognized that the quality of aquatic habitat within stream channels is intrinsically related to the character of the floodplains and associated riparian zones, and human activities that occur outside the river channels can affect the physical and biological features of the aquatic environment.   We will continue to consult with Federal agencies on projects occurring within floodplains or riparian zones that may affect bull trout.

 

The Service is proposing critical habitat in only those areas that currently have the physical and biological characteristics necessary for the conservation and recovery of bull trout.  In Montana, this includes only occupied streams where bull trout spawning and rearing or migratory connections presently occur as well as downstream lakes and reservoirs where foraging and overwintering habitat exist.

 

What are the regulatory consequences of a critical habitat designation?

 

Regulatory consequences of a designation of critical habitat are that Federal agencies must consult with the Service before undertaking actions with a federal nexus (for example, projects or activities that require a Federal authorization, permit, license, or funding) that might destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. Because the bull trout is already listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, these consultations are already taking place and have been since 1998. Therefore little or no additional regulatory burden is anticipated. There will be no regulatory impact on private landowners taking actions on their lands which do not have a federal connection.

 

How does the current proposed rule differ from the 2005 final rule, which is currently in effect?

 

Under the 2005 bull trout critical habitat final rule, which is currently in effect, a series of disconnected patches of stream, lake, and reservoir habitat that occur primarily on State and private land were designated.  The existing critical habitat in Montana totals 1,058 stream miles and 31,916 acres of lake/reservoir habitat.  Under this new proposal, the inclusion of Federal lands would largely connect those patches into a continuous overlay that better represents the extent of important occupied habitat for bull trout.

 

Do listed species in critical habitat areas receive more protection?

 

An area designated as critical habitat is not a refuge or special conservation area; and it only affects activities with Federal involvement.  Listed species and their habitat are protected by the Endangered Species Act whether or not they are in an area designated as critical habitat. The Act requires federal agencies to consult with the Service on actions they carry out, fund, or authorize that may adversely modify that critical habitat.

 

However, even when there is no critical habitat designation, Federal agencies must consult with the Service whenever they carry out, fund, or authorize any activity that could potentially jeopardize a listed species.

 

What are the benefits of a critical habitat designation?

 


Designation of critical habitat can help focus conservation activities for a listed species by identifying areas that contain the physical and biological features that are essential for the conservation of the species.  A critical habitat designation alerts the public as well as land managing agencies to the importance of these areas, but the Endangered Species Act only imposes restrictions on the actions or programs that are authorized, funded, permitted, or carried out by a federal agency that may adversely affect critical habitat.

 

How would a critical habitat designation affect landowners in Montana?

 

As a listed species since 1998, the bull trout is already protected under the Endangered Species Act wherever it occurs.  Landowner development or building projects that require Federal authorization, permits, licensing, or funding already require consultation; therefore, a critical habitat designation would have minimal and largely unnoticeable effects on landowners beyond those measures already required to protect the species.

 

How would a critical habitat designation for bull trout affect use of my personal property?  Would this result in any taking of my property?

 

The designation of critical habitat on privately-owned land does not mean the government wants to acquire or control the land.  Activities on private land that do not require Federal permits or funding are not affected by a critical habitat designation.  Critical habitat does not require landowners to carry out any special management actions nor does it restrict the use of the land.

 


If a landowner needs a Federal permit or receives Federal funding for a specific activity, the agency responsible for issuing the permit or providing the funds would consult with the Service to determine how the action may affect the bull trout or its designated critical habitat.  We will work with the Federal agency and private landowner to minimize the impacts, if necessary.  In many cases, programmatic type consultations for routine activities occur up front, so that future permit actions which meet certain standards are not delayed or modified.  This may involve minor changes to the proposed project, such as to the timing of the work.

 

The obligation to protect bull trout and its habitat came when bull trout were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1998.  The Act prohibits any individual from engaging in unauthorized activities that will actually “take” (defined as to kill, harm, harass, trap, or wound) listed species. A designation of critical habitat would not add additional regulatory considerations.

 

Would a critical habitat designation prohibit boating, fishing, and other recreational uses of lakes, reservoirs, and streams in Montana?

 

No. A designation of critical habitat will not restrict or prohibit landowners and other people from accessing rivers, lakes, or reservoir areas for recreational and other activities. However, since the species was listed in 1998, the bull trout has been protected from “take” (defined as to kill, harm, harass, trap, or wound) under the Endangered Species Act.  Since that time, the Service and other agencies with land and water management responsibility have attempted to minimize impacts to bull trout habitat, especially in riparian areas and through management of water delivery and hydropower systems.

 

How will this affect lakeshore property owners?

 

In general, routine property management activities of lakeshore property owners are not known to adversely impact bull trout.  Protection of clean, cold water is in the best interests of both lakeshore property owners and bull trout.  If a property owner is undertaking an activity requiring a Federal permit, we will work with the Federal agency and the landowner to minimize any adverse impacts to bull trout.

 

How will the critical habitat designation affect reservoir and lake levels on systems regulated by dams? 

 

There is little evidence that existing water level fluctuations in reservoirs (for example, Hungry Horse or Koocanusa) or in Flathead Lake have negatively impacted bull trout.  However, water level manipulation of the associated rivers is a greater concern for bull trout, based on available scientific information.  To provide for adequate "river like" flows to designated critical habitat downstream of the dams, manipulation of reservoir levels may be necessary to provide water for releases at appropriate times of the year.  Most consultations regarding activities of this nature have already occurred, through prior actions that were associated with the listing of the species in 1998.

 

What does this critical habitat designation mean to Tribes?

 

Any adverse effects that this critical habitat proposal might have on Tribal trust resources, Tribally-owned fee lands, or the exercise of Tribal rights will be taken into consideration before the final decision is made.  Tribes will be contacted on a government-to-government basis for their input into the rule.

 


How would a designation of critical habitat affect Federal agencies that undertake, permit or fund projects?

 

Because Federal agencies are already required to consult on actions that may affect bull trout, we anticipate little or no additional regulatory burden will be placed on Federal agencies as a result of a designation of critical habitat.

 

Do Federal agencies have to consult with the Service outside critical habitat areas?

 

Even when there is not a critical habitat designation, Federal agencies must consult with the Service, if an action that they fund, or authorize, or permit may adversely affect listed species.  Since bull trout do occur in some Montana waters that are not proposed for designation as critical habitat, consultation on projects in those areas would continue.

 

How would State lands be affected by a critical habitat designation for bull trout?

 

Non-Federal activities are not affected by critical habitat designation. Designation of critical habitat requires Federal agencies to review activities they fund, authorize, or carry out, to assess the likely effects of the activities on critical habitat.  So, projects on State lands that involve a Federal nexus would continue to be consulted on.  Projects with no Federal nexus would be treated like any other on non-Federal lands and would be exempt from Section 7 consultation.

 

Does the Endangered Species Act require an economic analysis as part of a critical habitat proposal?

 

Yes. The Service must take into account the economic impact of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. The Service may exclude any area from designation if it determines that the benefits of such exclusion outweigh the benefits of designation, unless it determines that failure to designate the area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the species.

 

An economic analysis has been prepared and is available for public comment and is posted to the Service’s web site: http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/fish/bulltrout

 

What activities could adversely affect critical habitat?

 

Any activities that adversely affect the basic elements of healthy bull trout habitat - especially those that contribute sediment to spawning and rearing streams or that alter the quantity or quality of clean, cold water and the connectivity of migratory corridors - have the potential to adversely affect critical habitat.

 

Will the public have an opportunity to comment on the proposed critical habitat designation for bull trout?

 

Yes - The Service is currently soliciting comments and information from the general public, Federal and state agencies, private landowners, conservation organizations, user groups, Tribal organizations, congressional groups, counties, and municipalities on the proposed critical habitat designation. An in-depth economic analysis of the critical habitat proposal was also prepared and is available for public comment along with this proposed rule.

 


The public is also invited to attend an informational meeting in Missoula, Montana on February 16, 2010 from 3p.m. to 8 p.m. at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Headquarters, 3201 Spurgin Road.  The informational meeting will provide an opportunity for people to learn more about the critical habitat proposal and to submit written comments.  Two structured presentations will be given (at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.) along with ample opportunity for individual interaction.  This public meeting will not be a formal public hearing, but there will be a public hearing in Boise, Idaho on February 25, 2010.

 

Written comments on the proposed critical habitat revision and on the draft economic analysis can also be submitted by one of the following methods:

 

• Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.

In the box that reads “Enter Keyword or ID,” enter the docket number for this proposed rule, which is FWS-R1-ES-2009-0085. Check the box that reads “Open for Comment/Submission,” and then click the Search button. You should then see an icon that reads “Submit a Comment.”  Please ensure that you have found the correct rulemaking before submitting your comment.

 

U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R1-ES-2009-0085; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203. 

 

 How can I get more information concerning habitat in Montana that is being proposed as critical habitat for bull trout?

 

For more information specific to proposed habitat in Montana, you may contact Wade Fredenberg at Creston Fish and Wildlife Center at 406-758-6872 or Shawn Sartorius at FWS Montana Field Office in Helena (406-449-5225 ext. 208) or visit our web site at:

 http://mountain-prairie.fws.gov/fish/bulltrout