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The Mountain-Prairie Region


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


February 21, 2006   

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

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout Does Not Warrant Endangered Species Act Protection

 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that results of a recent status review indicate that Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing of the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, found in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Nevada, is not warranted. The status review found that stable, viable and self-sustaining populations of the fish are widely distributed throughout its historic range.

 AAlthough the Yellowstone cutthroat trout has declined from historic levels, the Service found numerous, robust populations throughout the historic range of the subspecies, most notably in headwater areas,@ said Mitch King, the Service’s Director of the Mountain-Prairie Region. “The Service believes these populations form a solid basis for the long-term persistence of the fish.”

 In making this finding, the Service considered information and comments received from several State fish and wildlife agencies, the U.S. Forest Service, Yellowstone National Park, environmental organizations, Tribes, and the public. Part of the new information received was a status assessment report for Yellowstone cutthroat trout, coauthored by the U.S. Forest Service and fish and wildlife agencies for the States of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada, that best described the present-day range-wide status of Yellowstone cutthroat trout in the United States.

 Numerous ongoing conservation efforts on behalf of the Yellowstone cutthroat trout demonstrate broad interest in protecting the species by State, Federal, Tribal, local, and nongovernmental organizations and the public at large. These efforts, while important, were not the determining factor in the decision whether or not to list the species. 

 “While not driving our listing decision, the Service appreciates the many conservation efforts conducted by our partners,” said King. “Our decision was based primarily on the present-day status and trend of Yellowstone cutthroat trout populations and the mitigation of many of the existing factors that can affect the species.” 

Biodiversity Legal Foundation, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and the Montana Ecosystems Defense Council petitioned the Service in 1998 to list the Yellowstone cutthroat trout as threatened throughout its historic range. In 2001, the Service found that the petition failed to present substantial information indicating that listing was warranted. A complaint was filed in court, which ordered the Service to produce a finding in 12 months regarding the status of Yellowstone cutthroat trout by February 14, 2006. 

Many factors that have historically affected Yellowstone cutthroat populations, such as harvest by anglers or stocking of nonnative fishes can be effectively countered by the ongoing current management actions of State and Federal agencies.  

Hybridization with nonnative rainbow trout continues to affect Yellowstone cutthroat populations. The eventual extent that future hybridization may occur in Yellowstone cutthroat trout habitat may be stream specific and difficult to predict.  The criteria used for this finding is consistent with the genetic standards adopted by State fishery managers and allow for the limited presence of genetic material from other fish species in Yellowstone cutthroat trout conservation populations.  

There are serious concerns about the future of the Yellowstone cutthroat trout population in Yellowstone Lake.  The Service shares those concerns and will monitor the situation closely, but finds that the large scope of the Yellowstone Lake ecosystem will ensure the trout will persist in this ecosystem, at least for the foreseeable future.  The Service does not find justification for applying the Distinct Population Segment (DPS) designation to this or any other subpopulation within the range of Yellowstone cutthroat trout. 

Adult Yellowstone cutthroat trout typically exhibit bright yellow, orange, and red colors on their flanks and opercles, especially among males during the spawning season. Characteristics of Yellowstone cutthroat trout  that may be useful in distinguish this fish from the other subspecies of cutthroat trout include a pattern of irregularly shaped spots on the body, with few spots below the lateral line except near the tail. 

The historic range of Yellowstone cutthroat trout generally consists of the waters of the Snake River drainage (Columbia River basin) upstream from Shoshone Falls, Idaho, and those of the Yellowstone River drainage (Missouri River basin) upstream from and including the headwaters of the Tongue River, in eastern Montana.  Historic range in the Yellowstone River drainage thus includes large regions of Wyoming and Montana, whereas that of the Snake River drainage includes large regions of Wyoming and Idaho and small parts of Utah and Nevada.  Today, various Yellowstone cutthroat trout stocks remain in at least 35 of the 40 major river drainages they historically occupied in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah and Nevada.   

Most of the habitat for Yellowstone cutthroat trout lies on lands administered by Federal agencies, especially the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service.  Moreover, many of the strongholds for Yellowstone cutthroat trout occur within roadless or wilderness areas or Yellowstone National Park, all of which afford considerable protection to the fish.

 This finding is published in today’s Federal Register.  For more information please visit the Service’s web site at

 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.

 - FWS -


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