Conservation Groups Sue US Forest Service over Bull Trout Endangered Species Act Violations

Conservation groups filed a complaint on Friday against the United States Forest Service’s “ongoing, unpermitted incidental take” of the bull trout in Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, which they alleged is a violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The plaintiffs include Save the Bull Trout, a non-profit public interest organization that is “dedicated to ensuring the survival and recovery of the bull trout,” and Alliance for the Wild Rockies, a tax-exempt, public interest organization that seeks to protect biodiversity and wildlife in the Northern Rockies region. Both organizations are based in Missoula, Montana.

The United States Forest Service, an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has jurisdiction over the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. The plaintiffs alleged that the Montana DRNC has been engaging in the “incidental take” of bull trout through “entrainment and suboptimal instream flow and thermal conditions” for the bull trout who live downstream of the diversion at East Fork Rock Creek. The plaintiffs noted that this area is designated as the bull trout’s critical habitat.

Take means to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct” according to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Incidental Take Statements (ITS) are issued to federal agencies as an acknowledgement of the damage caused by their actions, and to prevent the violation of the ESA. The DRNC received an ITS in March 2013, which lasted for two years, however, the DRNC does not currently have an ITS for the dam despite claims from the plaintiffs that the Forest Service has remained out of compliance with their ITS that was issued in March 2013.

The conservation groups asked the court to declare that the U.S. Forest Service is violating the Endangered Species Act, order the Forest Service to obtain an incidental take statement, order the immediate implementation of protective measures for the bull trout, and award attorney’s fees and costs. 

The plaintiffs are represented by Bechtold Law Firm, PLLC and Public Interest Defense Center, P.C.