Feds reject listing Colorado river cutthroat as endangered | AspenTimes.com

Feds reject listing Colorado river cutthroat as endangered

Judith Kohler
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” Federal wildlife managers have rejected efforts to designate the Colorado River cutthroat trout as endangered, citing evidence of a “substantial increase” in the number of known populations.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued the decision Wednesday after a yearlong review of the status of the fish, found only in parts of Utah, Wyoming and western Colorado. A U.S. District Court in Washington ordered the review last year after environmental groups challenged the agency’s rejection of their petition to add the fish to the federal endangered species list.

Fish and Wildlife’s report, reviewed by experts, found “no evidence of major declines in the overall distribution or abundance of Colorado River cutthroat trout over the last several decades,” the agency said.

“We don’t agree with the decision. We don’t believe it’s based on the best available science,” Noah Greenwald, a conservation biologist with the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity, said Thursday. “The trout is gone from 85 percent of its historic range.”

Greenwald said the remaining fish live largely in marginal habitat ” high-elevation spots at the headwaters of streams, which are more vulnerable than other areas to cold, fire and drought.

Many of the populations are also isolated, reducing the opportunity for important genetic exchanges among the fish, Greenwald said.

The fish have disappeared as such nonnative fish as brook trout have increased in numbers and competed with them. Cutthroat trout have also bred with rainbow trout and other species.

Sediment in the water from logging and livestock grazing are also blamed for degrading the fish’s habitat.

Greenwald and Josh Pollock of the Denver-based Center for Native Ecosystems said the groups that filed the petition will review the Fish and Wildlife Service’s findings to decide whether to challenge them in court.

The Colorado River cutthroat trout is the only salmonid, which includes trout and salmon, native to the upper Colorado River basin. It has red or orange slashes on both sides of its lower jaws and black spots on its sides, particularly toward the tail.

A team of state and federal biologists that studied the fish found a total of about 285 populations of genetically pure or nearly pure Colorado River cutthroat trout in 42 watersheds in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

The fish collectively occupy 1,796 miles of streams, according to the report.

Patty Schrader Gelatt, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, agreed that many of the cutthroat populations are isolated, which reduces chances for genetic exchanges. She said the isolation also protects the fish from nonnative species.

Gelatt said some of the fish found during the study are newly discovered populations and some are restored populations.

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