Lawsuit Spurs Forest Service to Ensure Safe Passage for Bull Trout (News Release 2/10/17)
In response to a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, the Payette National Forest in west central Idaho is reconsidering how it manages roads and motorized trails to better protect bull trout. The complaint, filed September 21, 2016, challenged the U.S. Forest Service’s and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to ensure protection for bull trout critical habitat from roads and motorized trails.
Bull trout were listed as threatened with extinction in 1999 and currently occupy less than half their historic range. The picky predator species requires cold, clean, complex and connected streams to survive. A major threat to bull trout’s survival is the Forest Service’s massive and decaying road system—more than five times larger than the federal interstate system. Forest road stream crossings block fish passage and sediment bleeds off of forest roads, choking native trout streams.
In 2010 the Fish and Wildlife Service designated critical bull trout habitat – waterways with features essential to the conservation of bull trout – on the Payette National Forest. Nearly six years later, the Forest Service had yet to complete consultation to ensure the 2007 Payette National Forest Travel Management Plan does not hinder the fish’s recovery. WildEarth Guardians’ lawsuit spurred the agency into action.
“Forest roads and motorized trails get us from point A to point B. But they also split habitat into smaller pieces and bleed into streams, muddying our drinking water and ruining fish habitat,” said Marla Fox, Rewilding Attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “This lawsuit gave a voice to imperiled bull trout, long neglected in favor of other uses on the forest. By agreeing to reconsider past motorized use decisions, the Forest Service can begin to heal the national forest landscape scarred from decades of road building and ensure safe passage for bull trout.”
“Given that bull trout critical habitat was designated in 2010, it is unacceptable that in 2017, the Payette National Forest and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have not yet analyzed the impacts of motorized recreation on this imperiled habitat,” said John Mellgren, attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center. “The agencies have told the court that they intend to complete this process in 2017, and we eagerly await the results of this important–and legally mandated–consultation process.”
The Forest Service has stated its consultation process will integrate all new information since 2007 and an updated analysis of how the motorized use it allows on the forest harms bull trout critical habitat. Based on these assurances, the district court recently dismissed without prejudice. WildEarth Guardians plans to hold the agency its word and secure a fighting chance for bull trout. Ensuring clean, cold water for bull trout protects common resources for all of us: clean water and wild lands.