For immediate release: March 7, 2023
Adam Bronstein, Western Watersheds Project, (541) 595-8034; firstname.lastname@example.org
A new status report released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) determined that only five of 71 populations of Lahontan cutthroat trout are considered resilient and less than half are likely to be resilient into the future. Eight populations are at risk of blinking out completely. The species, first listed as ‘Endangered’ under the Endangered Species Act in 1970 and subsequently downlisted to ‘Threatened’ to allow for state management and recreational fishing, occupies just 12 percent of its historic range in Nevada, California, and Oregon.
“Despite the continued decline of the trout, USFWS opted not to uplist to Endangered and designate critical habitat for the species that would have expanded protections for currently unoccupied habitat and allow the fish to recover into more miles of streams and river,” said Adam Bronstein, Nevada/Oregon Director with Western Watersheds Project. ”This is a significant lost opportunity for the trout, and USFWS is putting the species at further risk of extinction by failing to take action,” Bronstein said.
As one of the earliest species protected by the Endangered Species Act –before later amendments to the law that require automatic critical habitat designation for threatened species, these rare trout exist in habitat purgatory where critical habitat designation is optional. However, reclassifying the species as Endangered would afford the species critical habitat protections. Western Watersheds Project advocated for an uplisting to Endangered and the establishment of critical habitat as part of the five-year review public input process.
The report indicates that poor to moderate habitat conditions in northern Nevada are a continuing hindrance to the recovery of populations for Lahontan cutthroat trout. Though the Service recognized that livestock grazing adversely impacts the trout’s habitat, it failed to acknowledge the extent of extremely poor conditions of public lands LCT habitat, and in particular, the acute impacts of authorized livestock grazing on tiny headwater streams where struggling populations are barely holding on.
In 2022, Western Watersheds Project analyzed the ecological health status of grazing allotments on Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service lands through which occupied LCT streams flow. More than 40 percent of the allotments on public lands where rangeland health was assessed were failing land health standards due to livestock grazing, and, in Nevada, fully 63 percent of allotments with occupied LCT habitat were failing land health assessments due to livestock grazing impacts. USFWS’s status report neglects to recommend reducing livestock grazing as a way of increasing the habitat resilience of LCT streams.
“The federal government cannot adequately recover the trout without addressing chronic livestock impacts to their habitat,” Bronstein said. “Federal agencies need to start taking their recovery responsibilities seriously or we risk losing the species.”
WWP’s LCT health status report was provided to FWS for consideration as part of the five-year review process.
Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit environmental conservation group dedicated to protecting and restoring native wildlife and watersheds throughout the American West.