Bull Trout History

Here is an interesting article from 1995, gives some background on how the bull trout became protected. I have taken the liberty of highlighting some sections.

Five states squirm as bull trout declines


Sidebar articleFrom the May 15, 1995 issue of High Country News by Paul Larmer

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What’s spotted, lives in pristine habitat on national forests and could put some loggers out of work if protected under the Endangered Species Act?

No, it’s not that feathered denizen of the ancient forests, the northern spotted owl. It’s a large predatory fish called the bull trout.

While far less known than the infamous owl, the bull trout is beginning to make its mark on the interior forests of the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies.

The plight of the cold-water-loving species has spawned lawsuits from environmentalists who say timber harvesting and grazing in the region have decimated its habitat. They want the U.S. Fish and Wildife Service to list the bull trout under the Endangered Species Act and the Forest Service to adopt a hands-off approach to the roadless watersheds where it still thrives.

The threat of a listing has prodded Idaho and Montana to create their own plans. The states say they can recover the species without the ironclad requirements of the act. The Forest Service, which manages the best remaining bull trout habitat, has also finally begun to develop a habitat protection plan.

How these plans will be coordinated, and whether they will meet the standards of the act or, for that matter, help the bull trout, is unclear.

“This is another snake pit,” says Bruce Farling of the Montana chapter of Trout Unlimited. “We’re talking about a fish with a big range and a lot of potential impacts on forest activities.”

Coordinating five states and 34 national forests to recover bull trout will make bringing wolves back to Yellowstone seem easy, observers warn. But the debate could also point toward a more flexible aproach to protecting endangered species.

“We want to prove we can manage the bull trout – that a made-in-Montana process with made-in-Montana tools can work,” says Glen Marx, policy director for Montana Gov. Marc Racicot. “The bull trout affects our economy, our quality of life, our recreation. Why shouldn’t we take the lead in its recovery?”

Once common from the headwaters of Canada’s Yukon River to northern California, the speckled bull trout was long considered a trash species because it ate other fish. An article in a 1929 issue of Montana Wild Life labeled bull trout “the cannibal of the trout family.” For years, fishermen collected a bounty for every bull trout they caught.

But then the fish, which is not a trout but a char, began to disappear. Decades of logging and grazing silted over the clean gravels bull trout need for spawning. Denuded riverbanks allowed the sun to warm the cold waters to lethal levels. Wildlife managers introduced non-native species such as brook trout which out-competed bull trout in human-altered habitat and diluted its genetic makeup through interbreeding.

The fish, which can grow as long as three feet, retreated to the last wild areas in five states – Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and a sliver of Nevada – mostly on public lands. The two largest remaining populations are in the Flathead Basin of Montana and Idaho’s Lake Pend Oreille region.

Scientists have warned for decades that logging rates in the interior West were degrading fish habitat, says Ron Rhew, a fisheries biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But only recently have land managers listened.

The bull trout is now viewed as an indicator of the health of watersheds: When bull trout disappear from a river, something is out of kilter, Rhew says, and other native fish using the same watersheds – including “redband” trout and west slope cutthroat trout – are probably also in trouble.

Fearing that not enough was being done to save the species, in the fall of 1992, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Wild Swan and the Swan View Coalition petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the bull trout. After the agency failed to respond within the one-year time limit, the groups sued.

In June of 1994, the agency arrived at an awkward conclusion: The species was in serious trouble and deserved federal protection, but couldn’t be listed because other species needed more help.

Environmentalists smelled political meddling, and in March the Associated Press confirmed that perception. Internal agency memos showed that senior officials in the Fish and Wildlife Service changed the species’ biological status to avoid a listing, it said. 

Then President Clinton signed a bill placing a six-month moratorium on the listing of any new species while Congress rewrites the law. Agency officials say the law prevents them from listing the bull trout until at least Oct. 1.


Shortly before Christmas last year, Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus and Gov.-elect Phil Batt wrote Fish and Wildlife Service director Mollie Beattie urging her not to list the bull trout. “A decision to proceed with a listing can only complicate and confound the meaningful (state-based) efforts already underway.”

But critics say the states have failed to tackle the most difficult issues surrounding bull trout restoration, especially habitat protection.

In Montana, where a governor’s roundtable has been meeting monthly since December 1993, roundtable scientists want temporarily to prohibit any logging within 50 to 100 feet of a river to maintain shade that keeps water cool. The state land agencies have accepted the proposal, but Plum Creek Timber Co. officials who sit at the table say the strategy is “overkill.” Current state law, which permits selective cutting in these buffer zones, provides adequate protection of bull trout habitat, they say.

Environmentalists contend such conflicts show why a consensus approach will fail without the stick of a federal listing.

Glen Marx says the roundtable’s accomplishments shouldn’t be undervalued, and points to a recent ban on bull trout fishing in the Hungry Horse Reservoir, heftier penalties for poachers and a massive public information campaign on the species and threats to its survival.

Some people have the mistaken belief that if we just stop cutting trees today, we’ll restore the bull trout,” he says. “It’s just not true.” He says the science shows that poaching, interbreeding with non-native fish, water depletion, overgrazing and development of private land may be more deterimental to the fish, depending on the locale.

The Forest Service has taken the most heat for failing to protect bull trout habitat. Rick Stowell, director of the regional fisheries program for the Forest Service, acknowledges that his agency has not moved quickly to protect bull trout. But the tide is turning, he says.

“It’s not that we’ve buried our heads in the sand on this thing,” Stowell says. “It’s just taken us four years to get here.”

“Here” is the Inland Native Fish Strategy, the federal agency’s first attempt at developing land-use management rules for bull trout habitat. The agency announced this spring that it had assembled a team to develop the rules by the end of May.

Stowell says InFish, as it is called, will screen all activities on the forests to determine their effect on riparian areas inhabited by bull trout and other native fish. InFish will only be in place for the next year and a half until two massive environmental impact statements are completed for the lower and upper Columbia River basins (HCN, 9/19/94).

Environmentalists say InFish won’t help enough because the rules don’t address lands outside riparian corridors Cleared land outside the corridors can produce heavy that increase temperatures and sediment. Some worry that InFish could give the Fish and Wildlife Service yet another excuse to not list the fish.

The states are also wary. In a letter to Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas on April 14, Idaho Gov. Phil Batt, R, said “Implementation of this plan would require major changes in, or even preclude, the logging of some of the salvage timber killed in last year’s fires.” Batt said an ongoing survey of inland fish in Idaho shows the fish are not in trouble in Idaho.

Meanwhile, former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus has announced that he will convene a bull trout summit to coordinate the growing morass of plans.

“Everybody’s doing their own thing, but no one is sitting down at the table talking with each other,” he says. “We need to address the problem without chucking spears.”

But Andrus may have already hurled one of his own. In a letter to Steve Kelly of Friends of the Wild Swan, one of the groups seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the bull trout, he said Kelly is not welcome to come to the conference because his views would not contribute to an “open discussion.” 

Andrus’ conference will be held June 1 and 2 at Boise State University in Boise, Idaho. For more, information, call 208/385-4218. n




For those of you who have not been able to keep up with recent developments as much as you would like, or if everything is coming at you in fragments, let me summarize.
On December 10th, several documents were issued from the CSKT, or the tribes, as they are often referred to. 
One stated that the 10 year plan for Flathead has failed to meet the goals that it set.  The CSKT has proposed a Pilot Project to more aggressively manage lake trout populations, and gillnetting plays a large part in this plan. 
There was also an MOU issued that names about 10 agencies, groups, etc as “stakeholders” and asks them to be a participants in the process to implement this plan.
Another document suggests an authorization to do all this through authority granted by the CSKT chairman, our Governor and Attorny General.  This document deals with hunting and fishing licensing, enforcement and revenues but SAYS NOTHING about gillnetting the lake as a management tool.  Did these parties intend this document, which expires in October 2010 (but which COULD be canceled by either party at any time), to allow this?
That is it in a nutshell.  The current management plan is almost expired, it has failed in the eyes of the tribes, and the end goal of the new plan is to kill 25 percent of the estimated 400,000 lake trout in the lake to see what impact this has on native fish.  This could include 1000 gill nets in the lake by 2012…three years from right now.
I am attaching the documents mentioned above for your own review.
Mike Howe is the manager of the web site www.flatheadanglers.com



www.flatheadanglers.com  This is the site you want to put on your favorites list. The site will give you up to date information on the purposed gill netting to take place on Flathead Lake starting in 2010. I encourage all of you that are interested in protecting our lake trout fishery in Falthead Lake to get involved. Give Mike your email address so he can send out the current information as this issue unfolds. There are also some contact information to send letters, emails,  call the Govenor, as well as the state representitives, and the Tribel Board.

Help save our fishery.

Please,  get involved!

Happy Holidays

I just wanted to take the time to thank all of you for the great fishing year. I enjoyed sharing fishing stories and techniques with you, and the feed back I get from fellow fishermen. I wish you and your family a happy holiday season and I will see you on the water. 

Keep a tight line

Kootenay Lake B. C.

I just back from a day of fishing on Kootenay Lake B.C.  If you have never fished up there I suggest you put it on your calender. We fished with a friend of mine Kerry Reed. Kerry owns and operates Reel Adventures Fishing Charters. He is located in Nelson B.C.  This is beautiful country, worth the trip to see the magnificent mountains and the lake that is over 80 miles long. Kerry is extremely knowledgable on how to catch fish . We caught 5 rainbows and one bull trout. The biggest rainbow was 8.5lbs and the bull trout was about 7lbs. We only fished for half a day and did very well.  Give Kerry a call,  this is a year a round fishery. Best times for the rainbows is November, December, then April May. They also put on 4 derbies a year so if your interested in the derbies check that out. It is a great fishery. It is only a 4 1/2  hour drive from Kalispell. I will put up the pictures on my most recent catches home page.


See ya on the water

Winter fishing


Northwestern Montana, Region 1 Jan. 2—Sunriser Lions Family Ice Fishing Derby on Smith Lake

Jan. 9—The Perch Assault on Upper Thompson Lake Call Snappys at: 406-257-7525

Jan. 16-17Fisher River Valley Winter Fishing Derby on Lower, Middle & Upper Thompson Lakes, Crystal Lake and Loon Lake 

Jan. 30—The Perch Assault on Lower Stillwater

Feb. 1-27—Annual Perch Pounder on all Region 1 waters 

Feb. 6—The Perch Assault – Fishers of Men on Lake Mary Ronan Phone Lake Mary Ronan Resort 1406-849-5264

Feb. 6-7McGregor Lake Resort Fishing Derby on McGregor Lake Phone McGregor Lake Resort at:



Feb. 20—Ryan Wagner Memorial Scholarship Ice Fishing Derby on Murphy LakeFeb. 20—10th Annual LMR Derby on Lake Mary Ronan

Feb. 27—Canyon Kids Christmas Fund Fishing Derby on Lion Lake

March 6—The Perch Assault – Lake Mary Ronan on Lake Mary Ronan

March 13-14—1st Annual Bitterroot Bash on Bitterroot Lake 

Southwestern Montana, Region 2

Jan. 16-17—Pike on Ice on Seeley and Salmon lakes

South Central Montana, Region 3

Jan. 23—Stan Shafer Memorial Ice Fishing Derby on Clark Canyon Reservoir


remains steady

The rainbow fishing on Lake Koocanusa remains to be steady. Last Friday we caught 4 rainbows the largest weighing in at a healthy 8 1/2lbs. Also put 3 bull trout in the boat there was one nice male at 8lbs. The weather changed on us on Saturday, and the fishing slowed down , but we still put 2 fish in the boat and lost 2.  Again the fish were caught on both Lyman plugs and streamer flies. Black and silver purple and white were the colors of the day.

See ya on the water