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Forest Service Agrees to Rethink How to Protect Critical Bull Trout Habitat from Motorized Use

WildEarth Guardians secures a fighting chance for bull trout on the Fairfield Ranger District, Sawtooth National Forest

Additional Contact:
Stuart Wilcox, WildEarth Guardians, 720-331-0385,

Boise, ID—In response to a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians, the U.S. Forest Service is reconsidering how it manages roads and motorized trails to better protect clean, cold water necessary for bull trout survival and recovery on the Fairfield Ranger District of the Sawtooth National Forest in central Idaho. The complaint, filed September 30, 2016, challenged the U.S. Forest Service’s and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to analyze the impacts of roads, motorized trails, and climate change on bull trout critical habitat and ensure the protection of that habitat and the species itself as required by the Endangered Species Act.

Listed as threatened with extinction in 1999, bull trout currently occupy less than half their historic range. The picky predator species requires cold, clean, complex and connected waterways to survive. A major threat to bull trout’s survival is the Forest Service’s massive and decaying road system—more than five times larger than the federal interstate system. Forest road stream crossings block fish passage and sediment in stormwater runoff from forest roads chokes native trout streams.

Under the Endangered Species Act, habitat is deemed critical if it has features essential to the conservation of a listed species and needs special management or protection. After the Fish and Wildlife Service designated more than 15 streams and their tributaries as critical bull trout habitat on the Fairfield Ranger District in 2010, the Forest Service failed to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure its motorized road and trail system does not hinder the fish’s recovery. Guardians’ lawsuit changed that.

“Dwindling in numbers, bull trout face an uphill struggle against habitat loss, splintering of habitat into smaller pieces, and poor water quality—not to mention climate change impacts,” said Marla Fox, Rewilding Attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “Forest roads play a large part in that equation. By agreeing to reconsider past motorized use decisions, the Forest Service can begin to heal the national forest landscape scarred from decades of road building.”

“The Endangered Species Act provides the tools to ensure bull trout have a fighting chance to not just survive, but recover,” said Stuart Wilcox, Staff Attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “More than 50 percent of bull trout critical habitat is on federal lands, making smart public lands management vital to the bull trout’s recovery.”

Given that bull trout can only persist in cold, clean water and complex, connected habitat, bull trout populations are key indicators of stream and forest health. By protecting bull trout habitat the Forest Service will be protecting clean water and wild lands for all of us.

A copy of the stay filed today is available here.


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