[Federal Register: April 14, 2000 (Volume 65, Number 73)]
[Proposed Rules]               
[Page 20120-20123]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants: 12-Month Finding 
for an Amended Petition To List the Westslope Cutthroat Trout as 
Threatened Throughout Its Range

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Notice of 12-month petition finding.


SUMMARY: We, the Fish and Wildlife Service, announce a 12-month finding 
for an amended petition to list the westslope cutthroat trout 
(Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi) as threatened throughout its range 
pursuant to the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended. After 
review of all available scientific and commercial information, we find 
that listing the westslope cutthroat trout is not warranted at this 

DATES: The finding announced in this document was made on April 5, 

ADDRESSES: Data, information, comments, or questions regarding this 
notice should be sent to the Chief, Branch of Native Fishes Management, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana Fish and Wildlife Management 
Assistance Office, 4052 Bridger Canyon Road, Bozeman, Montana 59715. 
The complete administrative file for this finding is available for 
inspection during normal business hours, by appointment, at the above 
address. The status review document for westslope cutthroat trout (U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service 1999) may also be obtained at that address, 
or at our Internet web site at www.r6.fws.gov/cutthroat>.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Lynn R. Kaeding, at the above address, 
telephone (406) 582-0717, or e-mail Lynn__Kaeding@fws.gov.



    Section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), as 
amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.), requires that within 90 days of 
receipt, to the maximum extent practicable, we make a finding on 
whether a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species presents 
substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the 
requested action may be warranted. If the petition contains substantial 
information, the Act requires that we initiate a status review of the 
species and publish a 12-month finding indicating whether the 
petitioned action is (a) not warranted, (b) warranted, or (c) warranted 
but precluded from immediate listing proposal by other pending 
proposals of higher priority. Such 12-month findings are to be 
published promptly in the Federal Register.
    On June 6, 1997, we received a formal petition to list the 
westslope cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi) as threatened 
throughout its range and designate critical habitat for this subspecies 
pursuant to the Act. The petitioners are American Wildlands, Clearwater 
Biodiversity Project, Idaho Watersheds Project, Inc., Montana 
Environmental Information Center, the Pacific Rivers Council, Trout 
Unlimited's Madison-Gallatin Chapter, and Mr. Bud Lilly.
    The westslope cutthroat trout (WCT) is 1 of 14 subspecies of 
cutthroat trout native to interior regions of western North America 
(Behnke 1992). Cutthroat trouts owe their common name to the 
distinctive red slash that occurs just below both sides of the lower 
jaw. Adult WCT, especially males during the spawning season, typically 
exhibit bright yellow, orange, and red colors. Characteristics of WCT 
that distinguish this fish from the other cutthroat subspecies include 
a pattern of irregularly shaped spots on the body that has few spots 
below the lateral line, except near the tail; a unique number of 
chromosomes; and other genetic and morphological traits that appear to 
reflect a distinct, evolutionary lineage (Behnke 1992).
    The historic range of WCT is considered the most geographically 
widespread among the 14 subspecies of inland cutthroat trout (Behnke 
1992). Although not known precisely, the historic distribution of WCT 
in streams and lakes can be summarized as follows: West of the 
Continental Divide, the subspecies is native to several major drainages 
of the Columbia River basin, including the upper Kootenai River 
drainage from its headwaters in British Columbia, through northwest 
Montana, and into northern Idaho; the Clark Fork River drainage of 
Montana and Idaho downstream to the falls on the Pend Oreille River 
near the Washington-British Columbia border; the Spokane River above 
Spokane Falls and into Idaho's Coeur d'Alene and St. Joe River 
drainages; and the Salmon and Clearwater River drainages of Idaho's 
Snake River basin. The historic distribution of WCT also includes 
disjunct areas draining the east slope of the Cascade Mountains in 
Washington (Methow River and Lake Chelan drainages), the John Day River 
drainage in northeastern Oregon, and the headwaters of the Kootenai 
River and several other small disjunct regions in British Columbia. 
East of the Continental Divide, the historic distribution of WCT 
includes the headwaters of the South Saskatchewan River drainage 
(United States and Canada); the entire Missouri River drainage upstream 
from Fort Benton, Montana, and extending into northwest Wyoming; and 
the headwaters of the Judith, Milk, and Marias Rivers, which join the 
Missouri River downstream from Fort Benton. Today, various WCT stocks 
remain in each of these major river basins in Montana, Idaho, 
Washington, Oregon, and Wyoming, but occur in scattered, disjunct 
populations in Canada.
    On July 2, 1997, we notified the petitioners that our Final Listing 
Priority Guidance, published in the December 5, 1996, Federal Register 
(61 FR 64425), designated the processing of new listing petitions as 
being of lower priority than completion of emergency listings and 
processing of pending

[[Page 20121]]

proposed listings. A backlog of listing actions, as well as personnel 
and budget restrictions in Region 6 (Mountain-Prairie Region), which 
was assigned responsibility for the WCT petition, prevented our staff 
from working on a 90-day finding for the petition.
    On January 25, 1998, the petitioners provided an amended petition 
to list the WCT as threatened throughout its range and designate 
critical habitat for the subspecies. The amended petition contained 
additional new information in support of the requested action. Because 
substantial new information was provided, we treated the amended 
petition as a new petition.
    On June 10, 1998, we published a notice in the Federal Register (63 
FR 31691) of a 90-day finding that the amended WCT petition provided 
substantial information indicating that the requested action may be 
warranted and immediately began a comprehensive status review of WCT 
(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1999). In the notice, we asked for 
data, information, technical critiques, comments, or questions relevant 
to the amended petition. The comment period closed August 10, 1998; 
however, we reopened the comment period on August 17, 1998 (63 FR 
43902), until October 13, 1998.

Petitioners' Assertions

    The petitioners assert that remaining, genetically pure stocks of 
WCT occur almost exclusively in small, isolated streams in mountainous 
areas. In Montana, the region for which most data were provided, the 
petitioners indicate that stocks of genetically pure WCT occur in about 
3.5 percent and 1.5 percent of their historic stream habitat in the 
Kootenai River and upper Missouri River drainages, respectively. The 
petition includes similar percentages for genetically pure WCT stocks 
in other drainages in Montana.
    The petitioners assert that it is common for today's WCT stocks to 
have some degree of hybridization with introduced, nonnative trout. The 
petitioners further assert that stocks of WCT now occur in 11 percent 
of historic habitat in Idaho and 41 percent in Oregon, although data on 
genetic purity are not available for most of those stocks. The 
petitioners have little information on the status of native WCT stocks 
in Alberta, British Columbia, and Washington, although several stocks 
have been confirmed by recent studies. According to the petitioners, 
only about half of the few streams in Wyoming that were historic 
habitat for WCT now have stocks of this subspecies, but all of these 
stocks are considered hybridized to some degree with introduced, 
nonnative trout.
    The petitioners assert that the WCT should be listed as threatened 
because the subspecies' present distribution and abundance are 
substantially reduced from historic conditions; remaining stocks are 
small and widely separated and continue to decline in abundance; and 
the threats to the survival of WCT are pervasive and ongoing. The 
petitioners allege that threats to WCT include habitat destruction from 
logging and associated road building; adverse effects on habitat 
resulting from livestock grazing, mining, urban development, 
agricultural practices, and the operation of dams; historic and ongoing 
stocking of nonnative fish species that compete with or prey upon WCT 
or jeopardize the subspecies' genetic integrity through hybridization; 
and excessive harvest by anglers.
    The petitioners further assert that programs to protect and restore 
WCT are inadequate or nonexistent, and that stocks of this fish 
continue to be threatened by a wide variety of ongoing and proposed 

Status Review

    A review team consisting of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
biologists from Region 1 (headquartered in Portland, Oregon) and Region 
6 (headquartered in Denver, Colorado) conducted the WCT status review. 
Team members were: Scott A. Deeds, Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Upper 
Columbia River Basin Field Office, Spokane, Washington; Lynn R. 
Kaeding, Team Leader and Chief, Branch of Native Fishes Management, 
Montana Fish and Wildlife Management Assistance Office, Bozeman, 
Montana; Dr. Samuel C. Lohr, Fishery Biologist, Snake River Basin 
Office, Boise, Idaho; and Douglas A. Young, Fish and Wildlife 
Biologist, Central Oregon Field Office, Bend, Oregon.
    In response to our June 10 and August 17, 1998, Federal Register 
notices, we received 56 comments from State game and fish departments, 
the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Tribal governments, and 
private corporations, as well as private citizens, organizations, and 
other entities containing information on WCT (U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service 1999). State game and fish departments provided information on 
the status, distribution, abundance, and genetics of the WCT in their 
respective States. We also reviewed information on WCT obtained from 
scientific journal articles, agency reports and file documents, and 
telephone interviews and written correspondence with natural resources 
managers familiar with WCT. In addition, we analyzed the extensive 
information on WCT provided by the Interior Columbia River Basin 
Ecosystem Management Project (1996). Detailed procedures and results of 
our comprehensive assessment of the available information are described 
in the WCT status review document (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1999) 
and summarized in this notice.
    Throughout the historic range of WCT, few of the remaining WCT 
stocks have been genetically classified on the basis of chromosome 
counts, biochemical characteristics, or molecular genetic information. 
Although application of such genetic techniques for characterizing fish 
stocks is becoming more common today, in most cases the taxonomic 
classification of extant WCT stocks has been based largely on the 
spotting patterns shown by the fish and the professional judgments and 
experiences of the fishery biologists who examined the fish in the 
field. Although WCT stocks with varying degrees of genetic purity are 
known to occur across the subspecies' range, there is currently little 
definitive information on the genetic characteristics of most WCT 
stocks (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1999). Even in Montana, where an 
extensive database on the genetic characteristics of many WCT stocks 
exists, the precise genetic characteristics of most stocks are unknown. 
Consequently, we based the WCT status review on the professional 
judgments made by the State game and fish departments that the fish the 
departments classified as WCT actually represented the subspecies, even 
though the precise genetic characteristics of those stocks may not be 
known, or the stocks may consist of intercross progeny that were the 
product of some low or nondetectable level of interbreeding between WCT 
and another fish species. In addition, given the very small, disjunct 
populations in Canada, we evaluated WCT status on the basis of WCT 
stocks that currently occur within the historic range of the subspecies 
in the United States (i.e., introduced and naturally occurring stocks 
in Canada and introduced stocks outside the historic range in the 
United States were not included in the evaluation).

Status Review Findings

    The National Marine Fisheries Service and our agency have adopted 
criteria (61 FR 4722) for designation of Distinct Population Segments 
(DPSs) for vertebrate organisms, such as WCT, under the Act. To 
constitute a DPS, a stock or group of stocks must be: (1) Discrete 
(i.e., spatially, ecologically, or

[[Page 20122]]

behaviorally separated from other stocks of the taxon); (2) significant 
(e.g., ecologically unique for the taxon, extirpation would produce a 
significant gap in the taxon's range, the only surviving native stock 
of the taxon, or substantial genetic divergence occurs between the 
stock and other stocks of the taxon); and (3) the population segment's 
conservation status must meet the Act's standards for listing. We found 
no morphological, physiological, or ecological data for WCT that 
indicated unique adaptations of individual WCT stocks or assemblages of 
stocks anywhere within the historic range of the subspecies. Although 
the disjunct WCT stocks in Canada, Washington, and Oregon, for example, 
met the first criterion for DPS designation (discreteness), evidence in 
support of the second criterion (significance) appeared entirely 
speculative for those and other stocks across the range of the 
subspecies. Congress has made clear (61 FR 4722) that in the absence of 
compelling evidence of genetic, ecological, or other characteristics 
that indicate a unique significance of a stock or assemblage of stocks, 
DPSs should be used ``sparingly'' in the context of the Act. We found 
no compelling evidence in support of recognizing DPSs for WCT. Instead, 
a single WCT population was recognized for purposes of the status 
review (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1999).
    Information provided primarily by State game and fish departments 
in Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon indicated WCT currently occur 
in about 4,275 tributaries or stream reaches that collectively 
encompass more than 23,000 linear miles (36,800 kilometers (km)) of 
stream habitat (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1999). Those WCT stocks 
are distributed among 12 major drainages and 62 component watersheds in 
the Columbia, Missouri, and Saskatchewan River basins. In addition, WCT 
are known to occur naturally in 6 lakes in Idaho and Washington, 
totaling about 72,900 hectares (ha) (180,000 acres (ac)), and in at 
least 20 lakes in Glacier National Park, Montana, totaling 2,165 ha 
(5,347 ac). The distribution of WCT in any particular stream or stream 
reach was based on field sampling or the professional judgment of 
fisheries biologists familiar with that geographic region. Because 
sampling all stream reaches in a watershed is generally not feasible, 
especially in remote and mountainous regions, information concerning 
linear stream distances occupied by WCT that the departments supplied 
were often total lengths for an entire stream in which WCT were known 
or suspected to occupy some portion. Although WCT stocks that occupied 
large, mainstem rivers and lakes and their principal tributaries are 
reduced from their historic levels, the degree that those stocks are 
reduced cannot be determined precisely because definitive historic data 
are limited. Nonetheless, we find that viable, self-sustaining WCT 
stocks remain widely distributed throughout the historic range of the 
subspecies, most notably in headwater areas.
    In the context of the Act, the term ``threatened species'' means 
any species (or subspecies or, for vertebrates, DPS) that is likely to 
become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout 
all or a significant portion of its range. The term ``endangered 
species'' means any species that is in danger of extinction throughout 
all or a significant portion of its range. The Act does not indicate 
threshold levels of historic population size at which (as the 
population of a species declines) listing as either ``threatened'' or 
``endangered'' becomes warranted. Instead, the principal considerations 
in the determination of whether or not a species warrants listing as a 
threatened or endangered species under the Act are the threats that 
currently confront the species and the likelihood that the species will 
persist in ``the foreseeable future.''
    Evidence from the Missouri River basin indicates that a conspicuous 
decline in the WCT population occurred early in the twentieth century 
(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1999). That decline was mainly 
attributed to rapid, abundant colonization of mainstem rivers and their 
major tributaries by one or more introduced, nonnative fish species 
(e.g., brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), brown trout (Salmo trutta), 
and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)) that had adverse effects on 
WCT. Our analysis also showed that the rate of decline in the WCT 
population is markedly lower today than it was early in the twentieth 
century. The evidence from the Missouri River basin provided a model 
for the historic decline of WCT that is probably applicable to WCT in 
other regions of the subspecies' range.
    We also have evidence that many of the headwater streams inhabited 
by extant WCT stocks throughout the subspecies' range are relatively 
secure from colonization by the nonnative fishes that are known to 
adversely affect WCT. Throughout the inland, western United States 
today, stocks of various subspecies of indigenous cutthroat trout often 
persist in high-elevation, high-velocity, headwater streams, where they 
appear to have a competitive advantage over nonnative fishes. Thus, the 
headwater streams inhabited by many extant WCT stocks may be relatively 
secure from colonization by nonnative fishes. In addition, because they 
occur in high-elevation areas, those headwater streams are relatively 
secure from the adverse effects of human activities.
    Spatial separation of many extant WCT stocks precludes natural 
movement and interbreeding among some stocks, thereby potentially 
increasing the likelihood that those stocks will become extinct due to 
limited genetic variability. In addition, the probable small sizes of 
some WCT stocks and the short stream reaches that they might inhabit 
make those stocks more vulnerable to extirpation due to natural 
catastrophes such as floods, landslides, wild fires, and other 
stochastic environmental events. Remaining WCT stocks in the Lower 
Missouri River and part of the Columbia River (in Washington) 
drainages, for example, occupy stream reaches that average 2.9 and 3.4 
miles (4.6 and 5.4 km) long, respectively (U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service 1999). Despite the probable small sizes of many extant WCT 
stocks that inhabit restricted, headwater stream reaches, however, we 
find no evidence of negative impacts of inbreeding within stocks. 
Similarly, although the probable small sizes of some of those WCT 
stocks and the short stream reaches that they inhabit make some stocks 
more vulnerable to extirpation due to stochastic environmental events, 
we find no evidence that the loss of WCT stocks that could result from 
such infrequent, natural catastrophes would threaten the continued 
existence of the subspecies as a whole (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 
    The status review revealed that most of the habitat for extant WCT 
stocks lies on lands administered by Federal agencies, particularly the 
U.S. Forest Service (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1999). Moreover, 
most of the strongholds for WCT stocks occur within roadless or 
wilderness areas or national parks, all of which afford considerable 
protection to WCT. In addition, numerous existing Federal and State 
regulatory mechanisms, if properly administered and implemented, are 
working to protect WCT and their habitats throughout the range of the 
subspecies. For example, the States generally restrict the harvest of 
WCT, and in many regions only catch-and-release angling is allowed. 
However, some regions have regulatory mechanisms with primary goals 

[[Page 20123]]

could maintain habitat conditions at levels that are less than optimal 
for WCT.
    We also are encouraged by ongoing State and local programs, most 
notably those in Montana, to protect and restore WCT within its 
historic range (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1999). The U.S. Forest 
Service, State game and fish departments, and National Park Service 
reported more than 700 ongoing projects directed toward the protection 
and restoration of WCT and their habitats. In addition, on private 
lands in Montana's Columbia River basin, for example, Plum Creek Timber 
Company is working closely with us to develop a Native Fish Habitat 
Conservation Plan that includes provisions for the conservation of WCT 
on 1.5 million acres of Plum Creek property. Elsewhere in Montana, 
restoration activities under way as part of the Blackfoot Challenge, a 
cooperative endeavor between private landowners and public agencies to 
conserve and restore streams and riparian habitats in the Blackfoot 
River valley, include removal of fish-passage barriers, screening of 
irrigation diversions to prevent the loss of WCT to canals, and general 
improvement of instream fish habitat.
    Finally, WCT also accrue some additional level of protection from 
the Act's section 7 consultation process in the numerous geographic 
areas where WCT distribution and habitat requirements overlap with the 
distributions of one or more fish species currently listed as 
threatened or endangered under the Act, specifically, bull trout 
(Salvelinus confluentus), steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss), and Pacific 
salmon species and their habitats on Federal lands in the Columbia 
River basin. Conservation efforts to protect these species, improve 
available habitat, and minimize adverse impacts on them would provide 
similar conservation benefits to WCT.
    The Act identifies five factors of potential threats to a species: 
(1) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment 
of the species' habitat or range; (2) overutilization for commercial, 
recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (3) disease or 
predation; (4) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and 
(5) other natural or manmade factors affecting the species' continued 
existence. The overall WCT population has been reduced from historic 
levels, and extant stocks of this subspecies face threats from some of 
these factors in several areas of the historic range. However, we find 
that the magnitude and imminence of those threats are small. WCT have a 
widespread distribution, and there are numerous robust populations 
throughout its range.
    On the basis of the best available information, which is detailed 
and analyzed in the status review document (U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service 1999) and summarized in this notice, we conclude that the WCT 
is not likely to become a threatened or endangered species within the 
foreseeable future. Therefore, listing of the WCT as a threatened or 
endangered species under the Act is not warranted at this time.

References Cited

Behnke, R.J. 1992. Native trout of western North America. American 
Fisheries Society Monograph 6.
Interior Columbia River Basin Ecosystem Management Project. 1996. 
Key salmonid current-status database (CRBFISH6). Available at ICBEMP 
web site www.icbemp.gov>.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1999. Status review for westslope 
cutthroat trout in the United States. Regions 1 and 6. Available at 
our web site www.r6.fws.gov/cutthroat>.

    Authors: The primary author of this document is Lynn R. Kaeding 
(see ADDRESSES section).


    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act (16 
U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: April 5, 2000.
Jamie Rappaport Clark,
Director, Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 00-9259 Filed 4-13-00; 8:45 am]