Over 20 years ago a small group of clean water activists petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list bull trout as a threatened species. The native char had lost over half of its habitat and populations were isolated and declining range-wide.
In June, 1997, after eight separate lawsuits against the federal government, the bull trout was listed in the Klamath and Columbia River Basins as endangered and threatened respectively under the Endangered Species Act of 1964. The St. Mary population was not listed until November, 1999 after more lawsuits forced the agency to follow the law.
So, there is never a good time to ask the federal government to do the right thing, or even do what it has already promised. We meet intransigence with court action, where they can “tell the judge.”
“Bull trout have been listed as ‘Threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act for 20 years, but they are being killed by the hundreds every year due to poor dam design and operation, unscreened diversions into irrigation ditches and river dewatering,” Alliance for the Wild Rockies Executive Director Mike Garrity said in a press release. “To stop the needless slaughter of bull trout, last September the Alliance sent the Bureau of Reclamation a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue, basically telling the federal government, ‘If you follow the law and take action on this issue in the next 60 days, we won’t have to go to court.’ Unfortunately, the agency has not taken the legally required actions to protect bull trout and so we’re forced to file suit to stop the unnecessary bull trout carnage.”
And, of course, there’s always the controversy over who’s paying for it?
“The Alliance and the Bureau of Reclamation are at odds on who would have to pay for the screens.”
“Garrity said back in September when the Alliance for the Wild Rockies first threatened to sue that U.S. The Bureau of Reclamation administers the diversion and would have to pay for the fish screens, not the irrigators.”
““We want them to put up screens where the irrigation ditch leaves the stream to keep bull trout and other fish from going into the irrigation ditch because when they go in there they get stranded and die,” he said. “Congress is about to pass a $2 trillion stimulus bill. I would think the Bureau of Reclamation could find $100,000 for a fish screen somewhere in this extra $2 trillion dollars,” he said. “If not, (U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.,) is not doing his job. His party controls the Senate and the White House.””
This should be quite a battle, one we intend to win on behalf of the threatened bull trout that reside in the St. Mary’s River, which runs along Montana’s northern border with Canada.