On January 13, 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to revise its 2005 designation of critical habitat for the bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus), a species that has been protected under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) since it was listed as threatened in 1999.

The proposed rule (PDF) represents a dramatic increase in critical habitat from that currently designated under the 2005 rule.  The rule as revised includes approximately 22,679 miles of streams and 533,426 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Nevada, which is a 79% increase in total miles of streams and 74% increase in total acres of lakes and reservoirs designated as critical habitat for the bull trout (see the Service’s comparison (PDF) of area 2005 critical habitat to area proposed).

The proposed revision comes as the result of a 2006 Federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon filed by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan, alleging that the Service failed to designate adequate critical habitat and unlawfully excluded areas from the final designation.  The Service notified the court in March 2009 that it would seek a remand of the 2005 final rule based on an Investigative Report by the Department of the Interior Inspector General that found a former Department of the Interior political appointee had interfered with the designation by directing large areas to be excluded from what had been proposed and by not allowing the inclusion of any areas unless there was absolute certainty that bull trout were present.

The proposed revision is different from the 2005 final designation in that the Service is not excluding any areas that have been determined to be essential to the conservation of the species. This translates into the following changes to the rule:

  • 929 miles (about 4% of the total designation) of unoccupied habitat now designated as critical habitat whereas no unoccupied habitat was included in the 2005 designation;
  • 165.9 miles of streams now designated as critical habitat in the Jarbidge River basin where as no critical habitat was previously designated in the Jarbidge River basin;
  • no automatic exclusions for Federal lands with management plans that were previously excluded from critical habitat designation under section 4(b)(2) of the ESA; and,
  • one additional Primary Constituent Element related to the presence of nonnative fish that may prey on, compete with, or inbreed with, bull trout.

The Service estimates that the revised habitat designation will cost an additional $5 to $7 million per year over the next 20 years from increased administrative costs. Comments on the proposed critical habitat revision and draft economic analysis will be accepted by the Service until March 15, 2010.

More information can be found on the Service’s bull trout page.