Bull Trout Recovery Planning

10/24/2014  By Alex Conley - YBFWRB
In our August newsletter, we talked about the great bull trout recovery work being done in the Yakima Basin, This fall, biologists are busy counting redds- part of a 15+ year effort to track how our 12+ bull trout populations are doing. Partners in the basin are working hard to protect and restore bull trout, but without a recovery plan (a requirement under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA)), it’s been hard to say what goals need to be met to recovery bull trout to the point that they can be removed from the federal Threatened Species List.  The US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) drafted a recovery plan in 2002, but never finalized it- leaving many questions unanswered. Finally, this September, USFWS finally released a draft Bull Trout Recovery Plan and committed to completing the plan by 9/30/2015 (as required to settle a lawsuit by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies). We’re in the midst of reviewing the draft. 

The most striking thing about the plan is that it does not set specific abundance or distribution goals for bull trout; it relies on using expert panels to determine if threats to bull trout are adequately addressed. In our recovery planning work with NOAA we have always had a combination of biological goals (how many fish, where, etc) and threats goals that require us to fix the problems negatively impacting a species. By focusing just on threats, USFWS opens up some real questions. If a population is doing well, even as some perceived threats are still present, do those threats still need to be addressed? Inversely, if all known threats appear to have been addressed, but a population continues to decline, can it be counted as recovered? Much of the detail will be added this spring, as USFWS develops the Regional Unit Implementation Plans that will be included in the final recovery plan. We’ll be working with partners in the basin to ensure that the USFWS’s new plans are consistent with the collaboratively developed Yakima Bull Trout Action Plan. We’ll also be pushing hard to ensure recovery criteria are clear and achievable. If you want to take a look at the plan yourself, it is available at: http://www.fws.gov/pacific/bulltrout/.

Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Stock with Wade Fredenberg/USFWS

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