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The Times-News Online -- Twin Falls, Idaho
Critical bull trout habitat proposed for Jarbidge River
By Jennifer Sandmann
Times-News writer 6/23/04

TWIN FALLS -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal Tuesday to designate the Jarbidge River as critical bull trout habitat.

The proposal in Idaho would cover the largely inaccessible 30 miles of Jarbidge River in Owyhee County already protected from encroachment and water withdrawals by a gorge that is at least 600 feet deep in areas. The Jarbidge meets up with the Bruneau River that eventually flows into the Snake River.

But in northern Nevada, the proposal would protect about 100 miles of streams at the Jarbidge River's headwaters and along its tributaries in a region already at odds with the agency over the native fish. For several years Elko County, Nev., has attempted to reconstruct the now infamous South Canyon Road near the small town of Jarbidge but has been stalled because the bull trout was listed as a threatened species in 1999.

"I don't know what they're trying to protect," Elko County Commission Chairman Mike Nannini said.

The state of Nevada contends that the Jarbidge bull trout is "alive and well and doing good" and is not a threatened species, he said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says that in its 30 years of working with the Endangered Species Act that critical habitat designation provides little added protection for most listed species and prevents the agency from using its resources where it would provide the bigger benefit.

"In almost all cases, recovery of listed species will come through voluntary cooperative partnerships, not regulatory measures such as critical habitat," an agency news release said Tuesday.

But other people disagree with the agency's assessment that critical habitat protection means little. It carries a lower legal threshold for determining violations of the ESA and it applies not only in areas the fish inhabit but in uninhabited areas the fish will need should the fish population increase.

Selena Werdon, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman in Reno, Nev., said about the only existing uses on the Jarbidge River in Idaho are spring rafting trips. Water diversions do not exist because of the steep canyon on either side of the river. In Nevada, road maintenance practices targeted at preventing erosion and sedimentation in the river could be one use affected by critical habitat designation.

The agency says swimming, boating, fishing, farming, ranching and other activities that don't require a federal permit would not be affected by critical habitat designation. Water diversions and discharges would be affected, but the agency said such uses already are evaluated with bull trout in mind.

In November 2001, the agency proposed to designate 18,175 miles of rivers and streams and 498,782 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Oregon, Washington and Idaho and Montana as critical bull trout habitat. Most of the Idaho waters were in central Idaho but also included streams in Owyhee and Camas counties that drain into the Boise River Basin. The agency also proposed designation of 396 miles of streams and 33,939 acres of lakes and marshes in Oregon. Those proposals are expected to be finalized in September.

Times-News writer Jennifer Sandmann can be reached at 733-0931, Ext. 237, or jsandmann@magicvalley.com.
* Last we knew: The environmental groups Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over not designating critical bull trout habitat in the West. A settlement was reached that requires the agency to do so.
* The latest: The agency announced Tuesday a critical habitat proposal for the Jarbidge River in Owyhee County and at the river's headwaters in northern Nevada. Find more information online at http://species.fws.gov/bulltrout.
* What's next: Written comments on the Jarbidge plan will be accepted until Aug. 25. Send them by mail to John Young, Bull Trout Coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 911 N.E. 11th Ave., Portland, OR, 97232; by e-mail to rlbulltroutch@rl.fws.gov; or by fax to 503-231-6243.





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