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Observer 11/24/14

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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow MEETING SET ON BULL TROUT HABITAT

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MEETING SET ON BULL TROUT HABITAT

Not too many years ago fishing for bull trout was common and sportsmen were able to catch a few big fish.

The activities of a growing population, however, have caused a loss of habitat for the fish, and finding a healthy population has become more difficult. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1998 declared the bull trout threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The service is establishing criteria for a recovery plan and for the fish's critical habitat, the types and conditions of streams necessary for the health and growth of the fish population. The stream areas do not have to be occupied by bull trout to become critical habitat.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will have a public information meeting in La Grande from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the National Guard Armory/Blue Mountain Conference Center on 12th Street.

Similar meetings held in other Oregon communities have drawn large crowds, said Phil Carroll of the agency.

"In Pendleton, we talked for three hours," Carroll said. "We've heard good, valid comments on the draft proposal. People come up with all kinds of information."

Although the designation affects all federal lands, it does not impact most private lands. Carroll said that private lands are affected only if federal funds are involved in their use.

"People don't understand critical habitat, but I think we've been able to calm their fears (about private lands)," he said.

Carroll said he does not expect the management of U.S. Forest Service lands to become more difficult after the listing.

"Most of the time they have to consult on bull trout," he said. "It will be a separate process requiring a paper trail."

The Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting written public comments on the recovery plan and critical habitat. Tuesday, the day of the public meeting, is the deadline for comment on critical habitat for bull trout, which live throughout Oregon, but comments on the recovery plan will be accepted through Feb. 27.

"We'll have an economic analysis in March, and we'll reopen the critical habitat for comment then," Carroll said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service expects to designate critical habitat by Oct. 3.

— Alice Perry Linker

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