Montana Grayling Test the Endangered Species Act

One of the most useful aspects of the Endangered Species Act is its stipulation no federal funds be spent on projects which jeopardize listed species. On federally administered lands- national parks, national forests, Bureau of Land Management properties, even military installations, these protections can mean the difference between recovery and further decline. Public lands, managed for the protection of threatened species, can serve as important strongholds and source populations across landscapes fragmented by human activity.

Ten thousand years ago, receding glaciers left behind a relict population of Arctic Grayling in the headwaters of the Missouri River. Historically restricted to a few hundred stream miles, populations were further reduced during the 19th and 20th centuries- logging and mining, dams and diversions, introduction of non-native browns, rainbow, and brook trout that out-compete grayling for food and space. Climate change and its consequences- duration and intensity of drought, frequency of wildfire, reduced and rapid depletion of snowpack- aren’t encouraging for the persistence of western grayling on the landscape.

Public and private groups have been working to protect western grayling within their native range, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service cited those efforts in its recent decision not to list the species. It’s a short-sighted, fingers-crossed policy that takes off the table some of the most powerful funding and management measures which could otherwise aide species recovery, jeopardizing one of the west’s most unique, iconic species in the process.

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