HELENA — The Arctic grayling does not need special protections under the Endangered Species Act, Federal wildlife officials said Tuesday.
“The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service has been reviewing the status of the upper Missouri River Artic grayling to determine if this population requires federal protection under the Endangered Species Act,” said Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Protection is not warranted at this time.”
Ashe said that conclusion was reached after years of conservation efforts by private landowners and federal and state wildlife agencies to protect the fish.
Habitat quality, population trends and genetic diversity are stable and increasing for most Arctic grayling populations in the state, he said.
Officials said one of the most successful grayling restoration efforts has been in the Big Hole Valley, where a decade-long program encourages non-federal landowners to voluntarily manage their land to remove threats to Arctic grayling habitat.
Thirty-three ranching families, along with the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resource Conservation Service, have restored riparian habitat along the Big Hole River system, a tributary of the Missouri River. They also improved water flows during critical times of the year for grayling and installed new fencing near the river system to keep cattle away, among other measures.
Officials said they were able to do all that while addressing private property concerns, keeping Montana landowners on the land and economically viable, and enhancing the overall health of the Upper Big Hole watershed.
“The conservation of grayling in the Big Hole Valley is arguably one of the most significant conservation success stories in the nation,” said Jeff Hagener, director of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “Remarkably, the over 250 conservation projects that were a part of this effort included nearly 160,000 acres. We will continue to do all we can to ensure the Arctic grayling and the diverse fish and wildlife resources in Montana remain healthy and will be sustained for generations to come.”
The partnership exhibited in Montana with grayling conservation will be a model used throughout the country for the conservation of other species considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act, officials said.
“Today’s announcement reaffirms that when Montanans work together to conserve grayling, both the fish and the people of Montana are better off,” Gov. Steve Bullock said. “The Arctic grayling is in good hands in Montana, under state management.”
Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Tuesday that he disagrees with the federal wildlife official’s decision.
“We’re very disappointed,” he said. “U.S Fish and Wildlife Service has twice recognized that the grayling is in danger of extinction and that remains true today. The grayling is one of the most endangered fish in the United States.”
The Missouri River system upstream of Great Falls holds the only North American Arctic grayling population outside Canada and Alaska. The fish are related to trout and known for a colorful, sail-like dorsal fin.