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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was given notice in December 2014 that conservation groups were going to file a lawsuit over its failure to provide protection to Montana’s Arctic grayling. Today, Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity, Butte resident Pat Munday and former Montana fishing guide and WWP Board Member George Wuerthner filed their complaintover the Service’s withholding of Endangered Species Act protection from the rare and beautiful fish.
It’s unfortunate that it sometimes takes legal action to compel the kind of coordinated federal action necessary to save a species, but that’s exactly the hope of today’s litigation: getting the Service to secure the habitat the Arctic grayling needs to survive in Montana. The grayling has been reduced to less than 5 percent of its historic range and is now primarily limited to one short stretch of the Big Hole River. Efforts by the state and some private landowners to improve habitat haven’t successfully reduced the species’ population declines.
A primary factor in the decline of the species’ range has been the ongoing diversion of water from the grayling’s stream habitat for agricultural uses and the degradation of riparian areas from activities such as livestock grazing. Extensive water withdrawals from the Big Hole River that draw down the river to a mere trickle every summer continue to threaten the Big Hole grayling population. Listing under the Endangered Species Act would require the creation of a federal conservation plan to address low flows in the Big Hole, among other threats.
The grayling simply cannot survive without more water in the Big Hole River, and getting that done requires Endangered Species Act listing and the national conservation commitment that goes with it.
The groups are represented by Tim Preso, Jenny Harbine, and Adrienne Maxwell of Earthjustice.