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http://www.heraldandnews.com/articles/2005/09/24/news/top_stories/top2.txt

Agency Lake off habitat list

Published September 24, 2005

By DYLAN DARLING H&N Staff Writer

Agency Lake is no longer listed as bull trout critical habitat.

The change came in a final list released Friday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of waters that need to be protected for the recovery of the fish that is labeled threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

With the change, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation won't have to go through consultation, a federal review process, before doing projects on the lake. The Bureau bought Agency Lake Ranch, the property next to the lake, in 1998 to use for water storage.

"There will be no consultation for Reclamation on Agency Lake," said Curt Mullis, manager of the Fish and Wildlife Service's Klamath Falls office.

With Agency Lake now off the list, the critical habitat designation doesn't include any of the waters of the Klamath Reclamation Project, said spokeswoman Rae Olsen.

"We will operate the Project as usual," she said.

Bull trout, members of the char subgroup of the salmon family, can grow to more than 20 pounds and live up to 12 years, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. The fish need cold, clean water to thrive and are indicators of water quality and health.

In all, the Fish and Wildlife Service listed 911 stream miles and 24,610 acres of lakes or reservoirs as bull trout critical habitat. All of the lakes and marshes are in the Klamath Basin, in the Sycan Marsh. Last September, officials announced what they said would be the final listing for the habitat, but then decided to re-evaluate the list.

One of the places that was changed in the re-evaluation was Agency Lake. Last September's listing called for 706 miles of streams and 33,939 acres of lakes and reservoirs, made up of the Sycan Marsh and Agency Lake.

"I don't anticipate any more changes," Mullis said.

In January 2002, the Fish and Wildlife Service reached a court settlement with the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan that created a schedule for setting bull trout critical habitat, according to the Service. The two environmental groups had sued the service for not designating critical habitat after listing bull trout in 1999.

Fish and Wildlife officials said Friday they plan to designate 3,780 miles of streams and 110,364 of lakes and reservoirs in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana as bull trout critical habitat.

The final designation is a huge drop from the amount proposed in 2002 and is a disappointment to the environmental groups. Federal biologists had proposed more than 18,000 miles of rivers and streams and 530,000 acres of lakes and reservoirs in the four western states.

"They eliminated 82 percent of what they originally proposed for critical habitat," said Arlene Montgomery of Friends of the Wild Swan, based in Swan Lake, Mont.

Assistant Interior Secretary Craig Manson last year said that bull trout benefit from protections already in place for salmon and other wildlife.

Some examples of those are the Northwest Forest Plan and the Washington Forest Practices Rule; numerous conservation agreements with American Indian tribes; and conservation plans that address bull trout on military installations such as Fort Lewis and the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington and the Bayview Acoustic Research Center in Idaho.

Environmental groups need to study the decision more before determining if they will challenge the decision in court, Montgomery said.

 
 
 

Critical habitat is a term defined in the ESA of 1973. It marks geographic areas that have features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. A critical habitat label lasts until the species is considered to be recovered, and is taken off either the threatened or endangered species lists.

Once marked, critical habitat may require special management considerations. For bull trout, critical habitat is limited to the water the fish live and rear in, and does not affect adjacent land. Federal managers need to consult with wildlife biologists on projects such as timber sales or livestock grazing plans that could harm protected species in their designated critical habitat. Boating and fishing, farming and ranching or other uses of land next to the water shouldn't be affected, officials said.

No waters where bull trout aren't currently found were designated, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Bull trout in the Basin are found in 21 percent of the native range, Mullis said. Efforts now are on recovering populations in those areas and not reintroducing them to places they no longer are found.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is working on a review of bull trout to determine whether a change in its listing status is needed. Work on a recovery plan for bull trout is on hold until the review is completed.

On the Net: http://species.fws.gov/bulltrout

 

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