For Immediate Release, November 15, 2007
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Pat Munday, Grayling Restoration Alliance, (406) 496-4461
Leah Elwell, Federation of Fly Fishers, (406) 222-9369 x 102
Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 788-2290
Protection Sought for Montana Fluvial Arctic Grayling:
Lawsuits Filed to Protect Grayling and
Five Other Endangered Species
HELENA, Mont.— The Center for Biological Diversity, Federation of Fly Fishers, Western Watersheds Project, Dr. Pat Munday, and former Montana fishing guide George Wuerthner filed suit today to overturn an April 24, 2007 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denying protection to the Montana fluvial arctic grayling as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The suit was filed simultaneously with several other suits filed by the Center for Biological Diversity on behalf of six endangered species.
“The Montana fluvial arctic grayling is on the brink of extinction in the United States,” said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “In decisions over the grayling, and dozens of other wildlife species, the Bush administration has repeatedly disregarded survival of the nation’s wildlife.”
Rather than concluding Montana grayling are not endangered, the agency instead decided that extinction of the Montana population, which is the last in the lower 48 states, is insignificant. According to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the decision went against the recommendations of the agency’s own scientists. It was made in Washington, DC, under the influence of former Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald, who resigned under pressure April 30th after an investigation by the Department of Interior’s inspector general found she had bullied agency scientists to change their conclusions and improperly released internal documents to industry lobbyists and attorneys.
“In denying the grayling protection, the Bush administration has once again ignored science and the law,” stated Dr. Pat Munday, director of the Grayling Restoration Alliance. “Unfortunately, this could spell disaster for the last river dwelling population of the grayling in the continental U.S.”
Once found throughout the upper Missouri River drainage above Great Falls, the fluvial arctic grayling has been reduced to a single self-sustaining population in a short stretch of the Big Hole River. A primary factor in this range decline was, and continues to be, the dewatering of the grayling’s stream habitat and degradation of riparian areas. Extensive water withdrawals from the Big Hole River and seven consecutive years of drought continue to threaten the Big Hole population. In recent years, so few grayling have been found that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks have not been able to estimate their populations, suggesting grayling populations are on the brink of extinction.
“The grayling is a unique part of the natural heritage of Montana,” said Leah Elwell, conservation coordinator for the Federation of Fly Fishers. “Loss of the grayling would be a terrible tragedy for anglers, Montanans, and the nation.”
In addition to challenging the government’s refusal to protect the Montana fluvial arctic grayling, lawsuits filed today by the Center challenge decisions to deny the Mexican garter snake (Arizona and New Mexico) protection, drastic reductions in critical habitat for three endangered fish found in rivers in California, Arizona and New Mexico and refusal to grant critical habitat for the Mississippi gopher frog. These actions follow a September notice of intent to sue over 55 species that were subject to corruption and high-level political interference within the Bush administration’s endangered species program.
In their challenge of denial of protection of the grayling, the groups are represented by attorney Judi Brawer.
A member of the salmon family, the arctic grayling is a beautiful fish with a prominent dorsal fin that is widely distributed across Canada and Alaska. Historically, fluvial populations of arctic grayling existed in only two places in the lower 48 states: Michigan and the upper Missouri River of Montana. Populations in Michigan went extinct by the 1930s, and populations in Montana were restricted to the Big Hole River by the end of the 1970s. Studies demonstrate that Montana fluvial arctic grayling are genetically distinct from populations in Canada and Alaska, and genetically and behaviorally distinct from lake populations in Montana and other states. Studies also show that grayling adapted to lake environments do not maintain their position in rivers but instead allow themselves to drift downstream.
The Bush administration has listed fewer species under the Endangered Species Act than any other administration since the law was enacted in 1973, to date only listing 58 species compared to 522 under Clinton and 231 under the first Bush president. The Bush administration has not listed a single species in nearly 18 months. In August, the Center presented Secretary of Interior Kempthorne the “rubber dodo” award for failing to protect any new species under the Endangered Species Act.