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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Protecting critical bull trout habitat in Idaho

WildEarth Guardians et al. v. Lannom; WildEarth Guardians et al. v. Mullen
Pending, USFS consultation with FWS completed summer 2018.
Case No.
1:16-cv-428; 1:16-cv-439
Date Filed
September 21, 2016
State, Venue
Idaho, U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho
Dana Johnson (Law Office of Dana Johnson), John R. Mellgren (Western Environmental Law Center), Matthew Bishop (Western Environmental Law Center), Stuart Wilcox
In two lawsuits filed in federal court in Idaho in 2016, Guardians challenged the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)’s failure to ensure protections of bull trout critical habitat in the Payette and Sawtooth national forests. The lawsuits allege the Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by failing to protect the critical habitat of bull trout from the damage caused by the network of roads and motorized trails to streams and lakes the bull trout relies on. Bull trout were listed as “threatened” in 1999. In 2010, FWS designated bull trout critical habitat on the Payette and Sawtooth national forests, yet the USFS never considered how motorized use designated in each forest’s travel plan would affect the species’ critical habitat.

Bull trout require cold, clean, complex and connected waterways to survive. Forest Service roads and motorized trails cause sediment-laden runoff to enter into these waterways, which leads to a rise in water temperature and increased turbidity. Roads and motorized trails also disrupt passage between spawning and rearing areas, which has partly led to a 50 percent decline of the species throughout its current range. In response to Guardians’ lawsuits, USFS reinitiated consultation with FWS regarding the impacts of road and motorized trail infrastructure on bull trout critical habitat and will take steps to ensure compliance with the ESA in protecting the species. Because of the specific habitat requirements of bull trout, the health of the species is a key indicator of a watershed’s overall health, and by protecting this species and its habitat, USFS will be protecting the entire ecological community.