Judge denies federal protection for westslope cutthroat | AspenTimes.com

Judge denies federal protection for westslope cutthroat

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

BOZEMAN, Mont. ” A federal judge has ruled the westslope cutthroat trout does not merit the protection of the Endangered Species Act, likely ending environmental groups’ decade-long effort to gain protection for the fish.

U.S. District Judge Emmett G. Sullivan issued his ruling Monday in Washington, D.C.

“We don’t have any immediate plans to appeal it,” said Sean Regnerus, water program coordinator for American Wildlands, a national group based in Bozeman, and one of several that sought the listing.

Sullivan’s ruling came down on the side of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in a debate over whether crossbred westslope cutthroats counted as cutthroats.

Montana and other western states that study westslope cutthroat populations define the fish as those with at least 80 percent westslope cutthroat genes, Interior Department officials have said. That same definition was used in the federal study.

At 80 percent, a fish “looks and acts like a westslope cutthroat trout,” Interior spokeswoman Diane Katzenberger said when the lawsuit was filed in spring of 2005.

American Wildlands, along with the Montana Environmental Information Center, the Clearwater Biodiversity Project, the Western Watershed Project and Bozeman angler Bud Lilly, advocated new technology, arguing that fish should be classified according to genetic makeup.

Sullivan ruled in favor of the morphological approach, in which the appearance and behavior of the fish determines how to classify it.

“There was nothing improper about its (Fish and Wildlife Service) conclusions because it was using a morphological rather than genetic approach,” he ruled.

American Wildlands first sought endangered species protection for westslope cutthroats in 1997. The Fish and Wildlife Service has denied the group repeatedly. This is the fourth time the group has gone to court trying to force a listing.

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