Montana Grayling Denied Protections Under the Endangered Species Act; Species Faces Immediate Risk of Extinction

For Immediate Release—July 23, 2020



Jocelyn Leroux, Western Watersheds Project, (406) 960-4164,

Josh Osher, Western Watersheds Project, (406) 830-3099,

WASHINGTONThe Trump administration today issued a Final Rule denying federal protections for the only remaining arctic grayling population in the lower 48 states. The fish, a member of the salmon family, continues to face dire threats from climate change and significant water withdrawals from the Big Hole River.

“Very little of the grayling’s historic habitat is still inhabitable, and conditions in its current habitat are worsening,” said Jocelyn Leroux, Washington and Montana Director for Western Watersheds Project. “The decision to not list the grayling is a death sentence for this fish.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service determined the arctic grayling was warranted for listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in both 1994 and 2010. Yet the Service abruptly changed course in 2014 and said the fish was no longer warranted for listing. Represented by Earthjustice, Western Watersheds Project, the Center of Biological Diversity, George Wuerthner, and local angler and professor Pat Munday sued to challenge that decision. Ultimately, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the 2014 finding and required additional review—citing the need to include an analysis of climate change on river flow and temperatures, and to update the Service’s flawed population estimates.

Today’s new decision fails to address these concerns. The Service inappropriately relied on voluntary conservation efforts by private landowners that do not address the significant and persistent threats to the dwindling arctic grayling population. The Service again emphasized small lake populations as contributing to the overall population, ignoring the dire and continued threats to the fluvial (river dwelling) population that now occupies only 199 miles of a consistently overdrawn river.

The Big Hole River has numerous blockages and diversions, and experiences low flows and warm water temperatures, particularly in the summer. These threats are certain to increase due to the predicted impacts of a changing climate which was again overlooked by the Service in today’s rule. The voluntary measures have not done enough to reduce the numerous threats currently facing the remaining grayling populations.  For at least the past week, check stations on the Big Hole River reported water temperatures at or above 21 degrees Celsius, the temperature at which graylings experience physiological distress according to the Service’s own analysis.

“Every year, despite the voluntary conservation agreements with Big Hole landowners, the river experiences significant periods of low flows and high temperatures that place significant stress on the grayling,” said Josh Osher, Public Policy Director for Western Watersheds Project. “The Service is ignoring the clear evidence that this species needs the full protection of the ESA and that the voluntary agreements are not enough to ensure their survival.”

The denial to list the arctic grayling was accompanied by the denial of the Elk River grayfish, rattlesnake-master borer moth, and the northern Virginia well amphipod, adding to list of species denied protections by the Trump administration.


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