Little Lost River Bull Trout
Advocates for the West filed a new action in April 2013 to protect bull trout in the Little Lost River watershed in central Idaho, on behalf of client Western Watersheds Project. The beautiful Little Lost River valley is bordered on the west by the highest range in Idaho – the Lost River Range – and on the east by the equally rugged Lemhi Range. The watershed is home to a small subpopulation of bull trout, which were once well distributed in the Little Lost River and many of its tributaries.
Their numbers have plummeted in recent decades, and they have even been extirpated from several tributaries and the Little Lost River (which is now completely dewatered at times every year). Despite these declines, the Forest Service and BLM were permitting heavy levels of livestock grazing on many reaches of bull trout streams in the watershed. The agencies admit that such grazing seriously degrades bull trout habitat. Cows can directly trample incubating bull trout eggs (redds), plus trampled stream beds release high amounts of sediment into the water. On many high elevation streams in the Little Lost, grazing has caused truly appalling levels of damage.
The case challenged the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service’s approval of grazing in the Little Lost River watershed through the Endangered Species Act consultation process. The agencies neglected to take an honest look at the harmful impacts of grazing within the watershed, which severely impacts bull trout populations.
The threat of this suit alone was enough to spur the agencies to close down nearly all the allotments in question, which was a significant victory for bull trout.
We took the agencies to court over the remaining open allotments and failed to persuade the court to issue a closure order. On February 3, 2014, former Staff Attorney Kristin Ruether filed an opening brief in a followup to this case. But, given that the Forest Service redid its analysis, the Court made the determination that the new analyses were sufficient.
The new analyses are an improvement – imposing some additional restrictions and monitoring requirements. We will now watch to see if the ranchers and Forest Service comply with the new requirements or if grazing impacts continues to occur.