DENVER, Colo. — In response to a court order to reconsider whether the Yellowstone cutthroat trout merits protection as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has again denied protection for the famed but dwindling trout of Yellowstone National Park. The Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Rivers Council, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance and Ecology Center, who brought the suit overturning USFWS’s previous denial of protection and forced the new determination, denounced the decision as another example of the Bush administration putting politics before science.
“The Yellowstone cutthroat trout is highly imperiled and needs the protection of our nation’s most effective wildlife protection law,” states Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “In denying protection for the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, the Bush administration is once again ignoring science for the benefit of their campaign contributors in the livestock grazing, mining and timber industries.”
Yellowstone cutthroat were once widely distributed throughout the Yellowstone River from its headwaters to the Tongue River, and the Snake River above Shoshone Falls, including portions of southern Montana, northwestern Wyoming, southeastern Idaho, and northern Nevada and Utah. They have been eliminated from over 90 percent of this historic range by a combination of habitat degradation and replacement by non-native trout.
“No known management measures can completely stop the spread of the principle threats, including disease, displacement by lake and brook trout, and hybridization with nonnative rainbow trout,” said Dr. Chris Frissell, senior staff scientist for Pacific Rivers Council. “But we do know that each of these threats is exacerbated by habitat degradation from livestock grazing, mining, logging, roadbuilding, dams and flow diversion. Protecting and restoring the last, best habitats of Yellowstone cutthroat trout, many of which remain without strict protection today, is absolutely critical for their future survival and recovery.”
Threats to the Yellowstone cutthroat trout are mounting even in the heart of its diminished range. In 1994, lake trout, a voracious, nonnative predator of cutthroat trout, were discovered in Yellowstone Lake, home of the largest remnant populations of Yellowstone cutthroat. And in 2003, whirling disease, an exotic trout parasite, was found to have decimated Yellowstone cutthroat trout in Pelican Creek, the principal spawning tributary of Yellowstone Lake that supported as many as 30,000 fish in the 1980s.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service’s finding utterly failed to consider the magnitude of threat facing the Yellowstone cutthroat trout,” states Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Yellowstone cutthroat trout is beset by a multitude of factors, including non-native trout, habitat degradation, population fragmentation and disease, and requires immediate protection under the Endangered Species Act.”
Yellowstone cutthroat trout are the nation’s first fish species to be identified as cutthroat trout. In 1884, Yellowstone cutthroat trout from Rosebud Creek, a southern Montana tributary to the Yellowstone River, were the first of now 14 recognized subspecies to be described as “cutthroat trout” because of their characteristic orange to crimson slashes underneath the jaw. In a story now common through much of their historic range, Yellowstone cutthroat trout in Rosebud Creek were long ago lost to habitat deterioration and displacement by introduced brook, brown and rainbow trout.
Listing of the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout would provide immediate habitat protection, something that is not provided by existing management by the various state fish and game agencies. It would also provide additional funding for ongoing population monitoring by the state agencies and efforts by the National Park Service to remove Lake Trout from Yellowstone Lake. To date, the Bush administration has only listed 40 species, compared to 512 under the Clinton administration and 234 under the senior Bush administration.