Endangered Species Act topic of House hearing - Nevada trout prevent rebuilding of flooded road


"Unfortunately, the Endangered Species Act has not been so much a safety net for endangered species at or approaching the brink of extinction as it has been a primary land management tool in the hands of the regulatory agencies."

Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev.

July 28, 2002 2:12 a.m.
ELKO, Nev. (AP) To some, it's a dead-end Forest Service road leading to an outhouse in one of the most remote mountain forests in the West. To others, a symbol of federal land managers' overzealous enforcement of wildlife protection laws they say is undermining the rural way of life.

Western Republicans' latest push to rewrite the Endangered Species Act returned to Elko County for the second time in three years Saturday where a congressional field hearing tried to get to the bottom of just how "threatened" the threatened bull trout really is.

At issue is U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protection of the fish that has prevented residents from rebuilding the road in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest that washed out in a flood of the Jarbidge River near the Idaho border in 1995.

Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., a senior member of the House Resources Committee who called a similar hearing in November 1999, said the fish is a poster child for loggers, miners, ranchers and recreationists across the region suffering from "the doomsday litany and exaggerations of the environmental movement.

"Unfortunately, the Endangered Species Act has not been so much a safety net for endangered species at or approaching the brink of extinction as it has been a primary land management tool in the hands of the regulatory agencies," Gibbons said.

The federal listing of Nevada's bull trout in March 1999 "is a case-in-point of how the ESA sword is sometimes wielded in isolated Western watersheds," he said.

"It was never the intent of Congress to provide the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the degree of control it wields over public land management agencies and private land owners today."

Central to Saturday's hearing, which attracted about 75 people to the Elko Convention Center, was disagreement between federal biologists and Nevada's Division of Wildlife over the status of the fish and its potential for extinction in Nevada waters.

Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, said the listing was political "poppycock."

"The Fish and Wildlife Service has perpetuated fraud upon the citizens of Jarbidge and Elko County," he said.

Federal fish biologists say a century of mining, livestock grazing and other impacts have jeopardized the southernmost population of bull trout in the nation and that erosion from the roadwork could choke off key migratory waters.

"The addition of the Jarbidge River bull trout population to the Endangered Species list was based solely on the best available scientific and commercial data," said Bob Williams, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Nevada.

Based primarily on state data from 1990 and 1994, federal fish biologists determined bull trout population in the Jarbidge River was "small, isolated, and vulnerable to extinction," Williams said.

By all accounts, the fish depend on clean, shaded waters to lay their eggs in the gravelly river bottom free from silt that often fills waters as a result of streamside soil disturbances.

Dennis Murphy, a research biologist at the University of Nevada at Reno, said the Jarbidge bull trout "is severely imperiled by any measure." He said a better question is "why was the species tendered threatened status and not the higher statutory and regulatory standard of endangered status?"

The Forest Service initially planned to rebuild a 1.5-mile stretch of the South Canyon Road leading to a campground and outhouse on the edge of federally protected wilderness before Trout Unlimited raised concerns about the plans and environmental allies ultimately won the federal listing from then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.

"We have been surprised by the extreme reaction that our position in this debate has provoked," said Stephen Trafton, California policy director for Trout Unlimited based in Albany.

"This is a mile and a half of dead-end road leading to an outhouse," he said.

County commissioners and property rights activists launched a series of protests culminating in the Shovel Brigade's parade through Elko two years ago with 10,000 shovels donated from allies across the country to help rebuild the road by hand.

State officials testified Saturday that there's no evidence the fish is suffering from anything more than a centuries-long reduction in the amount of cold, clear waters flowing from glaciers that once covered the mountain tops of the Snake River Basin, from which the Jarbidge flows.

"Jarbidge River bull trout populations are now and were at the time of listing, viable. . . . They are not teetering on the brink of extinction because of the actions of man," said Gene Weller, deputy administrator of the state wildlife agency.

"If the fish disappears in the unforeseeable future, it will be because as a glacial relict, it is going the way of the glaciers."

Interestingly, while the state opposes the listing, it agrees the road work is a bad idea.




Sunday, July 28, 2002

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