Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, I am Dave Allen, Regional Director of the Pacific Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) in the Department of the Interior. I am pleased to appear before you today to testify about the current status of state and federal cooperation on bull trout recovery in Idaho; the potential of expanding that cooperation under existing authorities of the Endangered Species Act (ESA); and achieving bull trout recovery goals and returning management authority to the states.
The mission of the Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. In carrying out this mission, the Service takes great interest in working with states, tribes, private landowners and others. I believe our work on bull trout recovery amply demonstrates this commitment. The Service is working with partners every step of the way to achieve locally driven solutions to the problems that have caused bull trout to be listed as threatened throughout its range in the lower 48 states.
Let me first provide some background on our recovery planning efforts, which I believe illustrates our commitment. When the Service started to develop a recovery plan for bull trout, we established a Recovery Oversight Team consisting of Fish and Wildlife Service biologists, a representative from state fish and wildlife agencies in each of the four northwestern states – Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington – and a representative from the Upper Columbia United Tribes. This tribal group includes the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the Kalispel Tribe, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and the Spokane Tribe.
The Recovery Oversight Team addressed overall recovery issues such as identifying a range-wide recovery strategy, identifying potential recovery units, and providing guidance in developing the recovery plan. To develop local strategies, we established a team for each potential unit, consisting of people with technical expertise in various aspects of bull trout biology in that specific area. These technical experts came from state and federal agencies, tribes, and industry and interest groups.
From the start, the bull trout recovery planning process has built upon previous state and locally driven efforts, such as Idaho’s Bull Trout Conservation Plan and Oregon’s Plan for Watersheds and Salmon. Recovery Team membership was diverse, including biologists and experts in related disciplines from local, state, tribal and federal entities; stakeholder groups representing timber interests, water users, agriculture, power producers and distributors; landowners; conservation groups; tourism advocates; and local governments.
In November 2002, the Service released its draft recovery plan for the Klamath River, Columbia River, and St. Mary-Belly River distinct population segments (DPS) of bull trout. This was followed by a total of 150 days of public comment. Concurrently, we solicited peer review through the Sustainable Ecosystems Institute, Plum Creek Timber Company, and the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society. We subsequently received peer review comments referred by the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society and representing the comments of four independent fishery scientists. We are working with the recovery team to integrate both public and peer review comments, as well as additional new information, into the draft plan. We plan to release the final recovery plan for these bull trout population segments in the fall of 2004. We are also developing draft recovery plans for Jarbidge River and Coastal-Puget Sound population segments of bull trout.
Across the four northwestern states, we are working with other federal agencies and state and private parties to recover bull trout. Let me focus on some examples from Idaho:
• In the Lemhi area, the Service is working with area landowners to develop a habitat conservation plan that will conserve aquatic species and their habitat while also providing for water uses necessary to the local agricultural economy. The Service is a partner in the Lemhi agreement.
• In the Upper Salmon River Basin, we are coordinating with the state and private parties to develop a cooperative agreement that will provide for long-term protection of bull trout.
• Recognizing that we needed staff dedicated wholly to conservation efforts in the Upper Salmon River Basin, we funded a position and opened an office in Salmon, Idaho. This office is devoted to working with local landowners and watershed groups to address conservation efforts, including the Upper Salmon agreement, the Lemhi agreement, the Falls Creek Safe Harbor Agreement, the Upper Salmon Watershed project technical team, the Upper Subbasin Planning technical team, the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, and implementation of the Fisheries Resource and Irrigation Management Act.
• We are working on a Safe Harbor agreement with four landowners in the Falls Creek area of the Pahsimeroi River watershed.
• We provided $400,000 for sprinkler installation and other water conservation measures to reconnect bull trout habitat in a Pahsimeroi River tributary with the main river.
• To benefit bull trout conservation, we provided $440,000 in funding, through the Fisheries Resource and Irrigation Management Act, for fish screens and passage at water diversion structures.
• We have funded numerous fencing and re-vegetation programs through the Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program.
Additionally, we have worked with public and private parties across the four states to achieve bull trout conservation agreements that will benefit the species and our conservation partners. These include the Plum Creek Native Fish Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), which covers 1.6 million acres of timberland in Idaho, Montana and Washington, and the Washington Department of Natural Resources HCP, covering 2 million acres of timberland in Washington. Those are two of the many examples.
The ESA gives us tools for expanding our cooperative efforts with state, local and private parties – such as Habitat Conservation Plans and Safe Harbor Agreements under Section 10 of the ESA and grant programs under Section 6 of the Act. We intend to use these tools whenever possible.
We expect the recovery of bull trout to be a dynamic process occurring over time. Our draft recovery objectives are based on the best available information. For the final plan, we will refine these objectives based on our current knowledge, including the public response to the draft recovery plan, and we expect that they may be further refined in the future as more information becomes available. The determination of whether a distinct population segment of bull trout is recovered will rely on an analysis of the overall status of the species, threats to the species, and the adequacy of existing regulatory and conservation mechanisms.
It is possible that interim regulatory relief may be provided in areas where bull trout populations meet their recovery criteria, even though not all recovery criteria has been met in every unit in the overall distinct population segment. One potential means to accomplish this would be through an exemption from take prohibitions for bull trout, at the appropriate scale, through the special rule-making process under Section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act. In that case, bull trout would remain listed as threatened in that area, but the prohibitions against take could be relaxed, and certain kinds of take authorized through the special rule.
We will continue to explore cooperative options for protecting and recovering bull trout along with our state and tribal partners.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony. I appreciate the opportunity to appear here today, and I would be pleased to answer any questions you have.