Critics cry foul over fish - Bull trout recovery plan costs 'staggering' to farmers, local communities

Capital Press Staff Writer


SUN VALLEY, Idaho — A bull trout recovery plan could end up costing farmers and local communities much more than most folks realize, critics contend.

A proposed critical habitat designation for bull trout in Idaho could force the retirement of some of the most productive farmland in the state, Boise attorney Andrew Waldera said during a recent workshop sponsored by the Idaho Water Users Association.

The costs to Canyon County alone could be staggering, Waldera said.

A 1999 study found that each acre of cultivated farmground in Canyon County was worth $8,534 in sales per year, $1,372 in wages and $204 in indirect business taxes, he explained.

“Each retired ag acre would reduce the county’s economy by nearly $9,000 as well as reduce the county’s largest source of employment,” Waldera said. “These costs are huge.”

Canyon County is within the Southwest Idaho Recovery Unit for bull trout. In 1999, the county produced more than $325 million in agricultural cash receipts.

Waldera also cited a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation study that estimated the economic fallout that would occur if 221,000 acre feet of crop irrigation water were suddenly lost to southwest Idaho.

The cutback could mean $53.5 million in lost farm sales, $37 million in net income and the loss of 1,500 jobs, the study found.

The cost of acquiring those water rights would be about $1 billion, the bureau estimated.

A draft recovery plan for bull trout in the Deschutes Basin in Oregon fails to adequately identify recovery costs, said Portland attorney David Filippi. The plan doesn’t cover the cost of some important activities such as the replacement of existing recreational fisheries, Filippi said.

In the Powder River basin, the recovery plan calls for an investigation of the effects of reservoir operations on bull trout, but there have been no estimates of the potential cost of changes in reservoir operations, he said.

In 1998 bull trout in the Klamath and Columbia river systems were listed as threatened. Bull trout in the Jarbidge River in Idaho and Nevada were listed as endangered the same year.

Proposed critical habitat designations for 32 species, including bull trout, have been postponed because of a barrage of lawsuits that have drained federal coffers.

But Filippi said he still expects the designations will occur and he would prefer that it happen during the Bush administration.

There was also much criticism during the workshop of the fact that critical habitat designations could include some stream segments, lakes or reservoirs that are not known to contain bull trout.

Under the law, critical habitat can also include non-occupied areas if they include physical and biological features such as space, food and cover that are found to be, “essential for the conservation of the species.”

Karen Budd-Falen, an attorney from Cheyenne, Wyo., who has taken on the Fish and Wildlife Service over other species’ listings, said the definition of critical habitat is far too broad.

“I need space, food and cover too,” she said, “but that doesn’t mean that everywhere I walk should be designated critical habitat.”


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