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News & Releases
Mountain-Prairie Region

News Release

Arctic Grayling Does Not Warrant Protection Under Endangered Species Act Due to Collaborative Partnerships

For Immediate Release

August 19, 2014


Arctic Grayling. Credit: USFWS.
Arctic Grayling. Credit: USFWS.

MONTANA – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today its finding that the Upper Missouri River Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of the Arctic grayling does not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service reached this conclusion after analyzing the significant conservation efforts carried out by private landowners as well as federal and state agency partners to improve conditions for Arctic grayling in the Upper Missouri River basin. These efforts have helped bring the species to the point that it is not in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future, i.e., does not meet the definition of an endangered or threatened species under the ESA. 

Private landowners in the Big Hole and Centennial valleys worked through a voluntary Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) to achieve significant conservation of grayling within its range. Since 2006, over 250 conservation projects have been implemented under the CCAA to conserve Arctic grayling and its habitat, including: riparian fencing, irrigation flow reductions, improved irrigation infrastructure, fish ladders, improved stock water systems, and both passive and active stream restoration.   Habitat quality has improved and grayling populations have more than doubled since the CCAA began in 2006.

“This is a prime example of what a CCAA can do, not only for wildlife, but also for sustaining the way of life in rural ranching community,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “The conservation progress for Arctic grayling would not have been possible without the amazing support we have received from willing landowners and other partners in the Big Hole River and Centennial valleys.”

The cooperation between the federal and state partners serves as a model for voluntary conservation across the country. Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation developed a new system to improve in-stream flows in the Big Hole Watershed, while the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service helped implement conservation measures for grayling. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks administered the Big Hole CCAA, hired biologists to work directly with landowners, raised grayling to bolster existing populations and worked to better understand the needs of grayling.

"Our focused federal, state and local efforts paid off not only for the Arctic grayling, but for the ranchers who voluntarily invested in long-term, sustainable conservation," said USDA Undersecretary Robert Bonnie." This conservation success story demonstrates that voluntary conservation works when ranchers, agencies and other partners work together to conserve habitat."

“Today is about the citizens of Montana’s Big Hole Valley,” said Montana Governor Steve Bullock. “These hard-working families proved that when a small group of dedicated citizens work together, great things can be achieved. The conservation of the Arctic grayling truly is a great achievement that builds upon our rich tradition of protecting Montana’s remarkable natural resources.”

"This is an historic day for Montana and for the Big Hole Valley," said Jeff Hagener, Director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. "Montana has worked to restore arctic grayling for the past 25 years, and we've depended on support from private landowners every step of the way. This success story begins with the 33 ranching families who live and work along the river and saw the value in restoring grayling. We wouldn't be here today without their cooperation."

This notice will publish in the Federal Register on August 20, 2014. For more information, see http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/fish/grayling/grayling.htm.

Click here to read the rest of this story. »

Questions and Answers
Arctic Grayling Does Not Warrant Protection Under Endangered Species Act

Q: What is the Service’s finding regarding the status of the Upper Missouri River Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of Arctic grayling?
A: We find that listing the Arctic grayling in the contiguous United States as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is not warranted. This finding is based upon our thorough review of the best available scientific and commercial information. As a result, we are removing the Arctic grayling from the list of candidates for ESA protection.

Q: How does the Service determine if a species is endangered or threatened? 
A: Under the act, the term “endangered species” means any species in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The term “threatened species” means any species at risk of becoming an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

The Service may determine that a species is endangered or threatened based on any of the following five factors:
A. The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range.
B.  Over utilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or education purposes.
C.  Disease or predation.
D.  The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms.
E.  Other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.
The assessment of these factors is based on the best scientific and commercial data available.

Q: How did the Service make this decision?
A: Using the above five factors, the Service evaluated habitat-related stressors on Arctic grayling populations in the Upper Missouri River basin. We determined that historical habitat-related stressors are being minimized sufficiently on federal land (including 18 of 20 populations) through adequate regulatory mechanisms. Habitat-related stressors to one of two populations on private land also are being minimized sufficiently through the implementation of a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA). 
We also evaluated other potential stressors (e.g., nonnative trout, drought, climate change) and determined that these are being ameliorated effectively by habitat restoration, the high-elevation habitats occupied by most populations, or by redundancy across the range of Arctic grayling within the Upper Missouri River basin.
Based on the adequate minimization or elimination of stressors on Arctic grayling populations in the Upper Missouri River basin, the Service concluded that the Upper Missouri River DPS of Arctic grayling does not meet the definition of a threatened or endangered species.

Q: How is this finding different from the Service’s 2010 finding?
A: In 2010, we found that Arctic grayling in the Upper Missouri River were warranted for listing under the Act but that listing was precluded by higher-priority actions. In that finding, we identified five populations within the Upper Missouri River DPS of Arctic grayling. In this finding, we have considered an additional 21 Arctic grayling populations as part of the Upper Missouri River DPS. These additional populations were added to the DPS in this finding for several reasons:

1) Since 2010, new genetic information on Arctic grayling populations in the Upper Missouri River basin became available. Multiple introduced grayling populations (i.e., those stocked in historically fishless waters within the Upper Missouri River basin) recently were analyzed and found to contain moderate to high levels of genetic diversity. Therefore, we included the additional 20 populations of Arctic grayling in our DPS designation in this finding, based on our improved understanding of their conservation value to the DPS. 
2) In contrast to many other fish species, the Arctic grayling has a naturally occurring adfluvial (lake-dwelling) life history form. Therefore, we determined that the adfluvial populations of Arctic grayling within the Upper Missouri River basin contribute meaningfully to the conservation of the DPS.

We now have four additional years of monitoring data from some of the Arctic grayling populations in the DPS that were not available for the 2010 finding, most notably additional data from the Big Hole River population. Using these additional data, we determined that historical stressors to Arctic grayling habitat and populations are being reduced to the point where the species does not meet the definition of a threatened or endangered species under the ESA.
Although six populations within the Upper Missouri River DPS of Arctic grayling are either not self-sustaining, occupy unnatural habitat or are captive brood reserves, the remaining 20 populations are secure and adequately conserve the Arctic grayling in a variety of habitat types to the point that we no longer conclude that the species is at risk of extinction, now or in the foreseeable future, throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

Q: What are Arctic grayling and what do they look like?    
A: The Arctic grayling is a cold-water fish belonging to the trout and salmon family. Arctic grayling have trout-like bodies with deeply forked tails, and adults typically average 12 to 15 inches in length. Coloration of adult Arctic grayling can be striking and varies from silvery or iridescent blue and lavender to dark blue. A prominent feature is its sail-like dorsal fin, which is large and vividly colored with rows of orange to bright green spots, often with an orange border.

Q: What are population sizes and trends of Arctic grayling in the Upper Missouri River DPS? 
A: Estimated adult abundance ranged from about 100 to 25,000 individuals per population in the 20 populations considered to have high conservation value. All of these populations are considered self-sustaining. Nineteen of the 20 populations are determined to be stable or increasing in abundance.

Q: Did the Service recognize and evaluate different life histories (forms) of the Arctic grayling?
A: Yes. In this finding, both adfluvial (lake-dwelling) and fluvial (river-dwelling) life histories of Arctic grayling were analyzed using the five-factor analysis, and both were considered important to the conservation of the DPS.

Q: What is currently being done to conserve the Arctic grayling?
A: Eighteen of the 20 Arctic grayling populations analyzed in this finding occur on federal land. Adequate regulatory mechanisms are in place to preclude habitat degradation and keep riparian areas intact.
One of the two Arctic grayling populations on private land is being managed under a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances. Since 2006, more than 250 conservation projects have been implemented under this CCAA to conserve Arctic grayling and their habitat, including riparian fencing, irrigation flow reductions, improved irrigation infrastructure, fish ladders, improved stock water systems, and passive and active stream restoration.
Our federal, state and private partners—particularly Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, Montana Department of Natural Resources Conservation, and private landowners in the Big Hole River valley—have made significant contributions in addressing the stressors that may influence Arctic grayling populations.

Q: Why should I care about the Arctic grayling? 
A: The Arctic grayling is an indicator species. Grayling depend on cold water to complete much of their life cycle. Thus, the presence of a self-sustaining Arctic grayling population indicates a healthy aquatic ecosystem. The health of Arctic grayling is strongly linked to our own well-being. These same cold water systems help support the health and economy of southwestern Montana both the residents of the area and tourists depend on same habitats that sustains the grayling – for clean air and water, recreational opportunities and for their livelihoods. By taking action to protect imperiled native fish, wildlife and plants, we can ensure a healthy future for our community and protect treasured landscapes for future generations.

Q: Where can I find more information?
A: A copy of our 12-month finding and other information about the Arctic grayling is available on the Internet at our websites:  
http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/fish/grayling/grayling.htm or http://ecos.fws.gov/speciesProfile/profile/speciesProfile.action?spcode=E03Q

You may also obtain more information by contacting the Montana Field Office at 585 Shepard Way, Helena, Montana 59601 (telephone 406–449–5225). The 12-month finding is published in the Federal Register and available online at www.regulations.gov. 

 

 

– FWS –

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Office of External Affairs

Mountain-Prairie Region

134 Union Blvd

Lakewood, CO 80228

303-236-7905

303-236-3815 FAX

www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/



Contacts

Ryan Moehring
303-236-0345
ryan_moehring@fws.gov

 




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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.
Last modified: August 19, 2014
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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