Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For Immediate Release: May 2, 2006

Noah Greenwald, Conservation Biologist, Center for Biological Diversity, 503-484-7495
Chris Frissell, Senior Staff Scientist, Pacific Rivers Council, 406-883-1503 or 406-883-3891

Conservation Groups Move to Protect
Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout

Fish and Wildlife Service Ignored Ongoing Declines, Massive Threats and Inadequate Management Measures in Denying Protection Under Endangered Species Act

The Center for Biological Diversity, Pacific Rivers Council and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance today filed a formal 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for illegally denying protection to the Yellowstone cutthroat trout under the Endangered Species Act.

“The Yellowstone cutthroat trout is critically imperiled and needs the protection of our nation’s most effective wildlife protection law,” said Noah Greenwald, Conservation Biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “In denying protection for the Yellowstone cutthroat trout, the Bush administration again put politics before science.”

Yellowstone cutthroat were once widely distributed throughout the Yellowstone River from its headwaters to the Tongue River and in 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 more than 90 percent of this historic range by a combination of habitat degradation and replacement by nonnative 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 the Pacific Rivers Council. “But we do know that each of these threats is exacerbated by habitat degradation from livestock grazing, mining, logging, road building, dams and flow diversion. Protecting and restoring the last, best habitats of Yellowstone cutthroat trout, many of which remain without 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 threats facing the Yellowstone cutthroat trout,” said Greenwald. “The Yellowstone cutthroat trout is beset by a multitude of factors – including nonnative trout, habitat degradation, population fragmentation and disease – and requires immediate protection under the Endangered Species Act.”

Yellowstone cutthroat trout were 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 lost long ago to habitat deterioration and displacement by introduced brook, brown and rainbow trout.

Listing the Yellowstone cutthroat trout would provide immediate habitat protection – something that is not provided by existing management. It would also provide additional funding for state agencies’ ongoing population monitoring and the National Park Service’s efforts to remove lake trout from Yellowstone Lake. To date, the Bush administration has listed only 41 species, compared to 512 under the Clinton administration and 234 under the senior Bush administration.


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