Listing of the redband trout could have limited grazing

By CAROL RYAN DUMAS

Capital Press

Findings of abundant redband trout populations in the deserts of south-central Idaho is good news to Idaho ranchers.

Western Watersheds Project and seven other environmental groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the trout as an endangered species in 1995. The agency denied the petition on the grounds the trout is not a distinct population, rather a member of the rainbow trout family.

A listing could restrict ranchers grazing allotments on public land, and they are likely anticipating the petition for listing could resurface, said Dan Schill, a wild trout research biologist and fishery research supervisor for Idaho Fish and Game, who led the redband research.

"That's probably why ranchers were interested in this project and certainly why Fish and Game was," he said. "We want to make darn sure any listing would be well warranted."

Three years' worth of research in the backcountry for his doctoral dissertation led Schill to conclude there's a healthy population of the redband trout.

He estimates the population of the diminutive fish at 925,000, with 246,000 breeding-size adults, over about a 12,000-square-mile area

"My conclusion is certainly these fish are not at risk in the near term," he said.

Schill's research took him to 595 locations, randomly picked by a computer program, with 150 sites on private property. Cooperation from ranchers on those private lands was "great," he said.

The findings offer some peace of mind to ranchers, said Karen Williams, Idaho Cattle Association's natural resources coordinator.

"Generally speaking, regarding any species, when a species is getting elevated attention, radical groups would pick up on that, use it as a tool" to further their goals, she said.

A listing could limit the use of public lands for grazing whether there's any proof of damage to riparian areas or species, she added.

"Hopefully, that's something we don't have to be concerned about" with redband trout, she said. "The studies show the species is abundant and there's no destructive effects from grazing."

Western Watersheds doesn't agree and maintains the fish should be listed.

"My observation is the streams are beat to death, and the water table is low and dropping. The water is going away, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see redband trout are going to go away, too," said Katie Fite, biodiversity director for Western Watersheds.

She said she hadn't seen Schill's findings but serious questions include where the fish are located, what the populations are in each of the watersheds, the age classes of the fish, whether they're genetically pure and how vulnerable they are to extinction.

Fish and Wildlife's denied petition for listing the trout was a great injustice to the species, she said.

"Certainly, listing the redband trout is an important thing for lots of people to be interested in, especially when you see the damage in these streams with cattle allotments," she added.

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