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Groups sue Fish and Wildlife Service over lack of protections for cutthroat trout

HELENA - A coalition of conservation groups filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Tuesday, accusing the agency of illegally refusing to extend federal protections to the Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, alleges the agency refused to list the Yellowstone cutthroat as either endangered or threatened, despite what the conservation groups characterized as "ample scientific data" that the species needs protection.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service's finding utterly failed to consider the magnitude of threat facing the Yellowstone cutthroat trout," Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a written statement Tuesday. The center is one of four organizations suing the Fish and Wildlife Service.


Chuck Davis, endangered species listing coordinator at Fish and Wildlife's regional office in Denver, said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it.

"We did receive a notice of intent to sue a while back and I guess they decided to go ahead with it," he said.

He said the agency stands by its finding that the petition "was not substantial, did not contain substantial information."

The groups asked the government in 1998 to protect the fish by listing it as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the request in February 2001.

The groups contend that rejection was flawed and illegal. They say the species has been reduced to 10 percent of its historic range and Greenwald said such a decline "clearly indicates the trout merits listing."

The Yellowstone cutthroat, like all cutthroats, is identified by the crimson slash beneath its gills. The fish are yellowish-gold with fine- to medium-size spots concentrated toward the tail.

They became a subspecies, biologists believe, after migrating from the Snake River at Jackson Hole, Wyo., over Two Ocean Pass on the Continental Divide into the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, where they thrived in southern Montana and northwestern Wyoming and even in southeastern Idaho and portions of northern Nevada and Utah.

However, the groups contend a combination of habitat degradation and the introduction of nonnative fish species have led to a massive decline in the Yellowstone cutthroat.

Joining the Center for Biological Diversity in the lawsuit are the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Ecology Center and Pacific Rivers Council.

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