MEDIA ALERT: Arctic grayling still in hot water, despite court ruling
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 2, 2016
Contact: Josh Osher, Western Watersheds Project (406)830-3099
Arctic grayling still in hot water, despite court ruling
Despite 90 Percent Decline, Court Upholds Decision Not to Protect Arctic Grayling
Helena, Mont. – A federal district judge in Helena today ruled against individuals and conservation groups seeking protections for Montana’s Arctic grayling. The cold-water fish has disappeared across 90 percent of its formerly occupied territory in the upper Missouri Basin. It faces threats due to near record-low flows and high water temperatures in areas where it still survives, such as the Big Hole River, Ruby River, Madison River Reservoir, and the Centennial Valley.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010 determined that Arctic grayling should be protected as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Citing their small population numbers, excessively warm water, and increasing threats due to climate change, the Service had found that Arctic grayling needed federal protections.
The agency abruptly reversed that finding in 2014. In a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, and individuals George Wuerthner and Pat Munday, advocates challenged the 2014 decision, warning that Arctic grayling could become extinct if steps are not taken to ensure that sufficient clean, cold water remains in streams, particularly the Big Hole River and its tributaries. Earthjustice represented the plaintiffs.
The court today upheld the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2014 decision not protect the fish under the Endangered Species Act. The court relied in part on efforts by state wildlife managers and landowners in the Big Hole to improve grayling habitat. Despite those efforts, in-stream flows in the Big Hole are below levels that wildlife managers have said are necessary to sustain Arctic grayling.
Arctic grayling populations in Montana rivers remain small, with only a few thousand adult fish in the Big Hole and fewer than 180 fish in the Ruby River.
Water temperatures in the Big Hole have regularly exceeded 70 degrees this summer. Not only are these high temperatures physiologically stressful to grayling but they make Arctic grayling even more susceptible to catastrophic events, similar to what’s happening in the Yellowstone River. State wildlife managers have observed that stress to mountain whitefish due to high water temperatures may have contributed to the severity of the disease outbreak that has killed tens of thousands of whitefish and resulted in a 183-mile closure of the Yellowstone River.
The plaintiffs offered the following statements on the court’s decision:
Pat Munday, a Walkerville, Mont., resident and plaintiff in the case, said:
“This summer is a good reason why we need protections for Arctic grayling that go beyond the voluntary measures undertaken by landowners on the Big Hole. Water temperatures have risen to levels that impair grayling reproduction and survival. Flows at Wisdom—a critical area for grayling—are only half the minimum flow needed for their survival. The truth is, without additional protections that prevent dewatering and habitat degradation, our children and grandchildren will lose a special and beautiful part of their environmental heritage.”
Jenny Harbine, an Earthjustice attorney representing the plaintiffs, said:
“With near-record low flows and high water temperatures in the Big Hole River, Arctic grayling are in trouble. They need federal resource commitments to restore adequate flows of clean, cold water. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service missed a key opportunity to rescue Arctic grayling from the brink and we are disappointed that the court upheld that decision. We will continue our fight to ensure a future for native Arctic grayling in Montana.”
Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said:
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service first recognized the need for Endangered Species Act protection for the grayling in 1982 but has repeatedly failed to actually provide that protection. In the meantime, the plight of the grayling has only grown more precarious with greater demands on water from the Big Hole and other rivers and now climate change. The voluntary measures put in place do everything but what is really needed, which is to place limits on irrigation diversions that leave enough water in the Big Hole River for this beautiful and unique fish to survive and recover.”
Josh Osher, Montana Director for Western Watersheds Project, stated: “Current federal policies and regulations are insufficient to ensure that riparian areas and tributary streams are protected from degradation due to permitted livestock grazing on federal public lands. When stream banks are trampled and streamside vegetation is removed by livestock, the results are higher temperatures, increased sedimentation and less downstream water which directly affects conditions for Arctic grayling in the Big Hole and Ruby Rivers.”
Western Watersheds Project, Inc
PO Box 1770
Hailey, Idaho 83333
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