SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed actions on Tuesday to bolster the bull trout, a native fish found in pristine, cold-water streams and some lakes in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
The proposals divide bull trout in the mainland United States into six areas targeted for recovery and seek to tailor conservation efforts to the specific threats facing the fish in waters from east-central Idaho to southern Oregon.
It is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the mainland United States. Its overall range is thought to have decreased by as much as 60 percent by the time it was added in 1998 to the federal endangered and threatened species list, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The proposals could be a first step toward ending Endangered Species Act protections for the fish depending on progress achieved in buttressing the populations.
Threats include streams becoming warmer due to climate change, impassable dams and destruction of bull trout habitats by activities ranging from livestock grazing to road-building associated with logging and mining operations.
Measures designed to bolster the fish came after conservation groups filed a legal challenge alleging the agency violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to finalize a recovery plan spelling out actions to prevent bull trout extinction.
“We believe we’ve built a practical recovery approach for protecting bull trout,” said Steve Duke, Fish and Wildlife Service bull trout recovery planning coordinator in Boise.
Duke said the ongoing survival of a fish weighing up to 32 pounds (15 kg) and requiring the coldest, cleanest water for survival is a good indicator of the health of aquatic environments affected by climate change.
Michael Garrity, head of the group Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said the agency has produced an extinction plan, not a recovery program. Garrity said the plan does not establish population thresholds before lifting protections for the species could be proposed.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service is essentially saying bull trout will be considered recovered as long as there are some out there; there is no population criteria,” he said.
The agency’s conservation proposals for mountain streams in ranching areas such as Salmon, Idaho include identifying barriers like diversion dams and circumventing them so the fish can swim upstream to colder waters with spawning habitat.
The agency is expected to issue a final recovery plan in September. The matter is open for public comment through July 20.