Agency maintains trout not imperiled

Associated Press - Spokesman-Review

LEWISTON, ID - 4/6/02 _ The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service holds to its belief that westslope cutthroat trout are not imperiled, although a judge called on the agency to reconsider listing them under the Endangered Species Act.

"We still stand by our findings that the westslope cutthroat trout are not in danger of extinction," service spokeswoman Diane Katzenberger said. "It has stable, viable, self-sustaining and well-distributed populations."

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington, D.C., this week ruled the department must reassess its decision not to list the trout and pay attention to the threat of crossbreeding with rainbow trout.

Katzenberger said several pure populations of the trout can be found in Idaho and Montana, as well as other populations in both states that are 99.9 percent pure.

"I guess it comes down to how pure is pure," she said.

She also said it would be difficult to remove cutthroat that have already crossbred with rainbow trout. State fish and game agencies have stopped planting hatchery rainbows in areas also inhabited by westslope cutthroat or switched to sterile rainbows to remove the threat.

Katzenberger said the only way rainbows and "cutbows," a cross between the two fish, could be completely removed from westslope habitat would be to poison streams and restock them with 100 percent pure hatchery-bred cutthroat trout.

Idaho Fish and Game regional fisheries manager Ed Schriever said he tried last year to develop a way for anglers to easily identify cutbows. He hoped regulations could be written that would allow them to harvest the crossbred fish, but not the pure westslopes caught in places like Kelly Creek.

But he said the differences were too subtle for untrained people to readily identify.

Schriever also noted a tribal study indicated two-thirds of the cutthroats sampled in the North Fork of the Clearwater River had some degree of hybridization with rainbow trout, but there also were many pockets of pure westslopes throughout the basin.


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