Arctic grayling in Montana rivers to be reconsidered for endangered species protection

USFWS agrees to make this very rare and declining fish a candidate species for the list-

Court action by 4 conservation organizations are responsible for this late turn of events for this beautiful (former) sports fish now down to just one or two streams. This is another species earlier denied protection by the bullying tactics of disgraced former Bush Deputy Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald.

This is a victory for those who want action over the collaborationists. Here is a recent article by a collaborationist. Can Conservation and Collaboration Save the Big Hole Grayling? By Jonathan Stumpf. New West. I would say the comments to the article by Larry Zuckerman, Western Watersheds Project, Salmon, ID are especially relevant given the events of yesterday.

Oct. 1, 2009. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider Montana’s arctic grayling status. By Eve Byron. Helena Independent Record.

News Release-

For Immediate Release, September 30, 2009


Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Pat Munday, Grayling Restoration Alliance, (406) 496-4461
Leah Elwell, Federation of Fly Fishers, (406) 222-9369 x 102
Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 788-2290

Montana Grayling to Be Reconsidered for Endangered Species Act Protection

Helena, Mont.— In response to a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Federation of Fly Fishers, Western Watersheds Project, Dr. Pat Munday, and former Montana fishing guide George Wuerthner, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed today to reconsider the Montana fluvial arctic grayling for protection as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. According to the court-approved settlement agreement, a decision on the grayling’s status will be made by August 30, 2010.

“The Montana fluvial arctic grayling is on the brink of extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We hope the Obama administration will put an end to the grayling’s 27-year wait for protection.”The grayling was first recognized as a candidate for protection in 1982. In 2004, this status was reaffirmed, and the grayling was recognized as being a priority for protection because of imminent threats of a high magnitude. Despite this recognition, the Bush administration sharply reversed course in 2007 and denied the grayling protection. Rather than concluding grayling were not endangered, the administration instead decided that extinction of the Montana population would be insignificant. The decision was one of many influenced by former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald, who resigned after an investigation by the Interior Department’s inspector general found she had bullied agency scientists to change their conclusions and improperly released internal documents to industry lobbyists and attorneys.

“During the many years of delay of protection, the grayling’s status has only gotten worse,” said Dr. Pat Munday, director of the Grayling Restoration Alliance and longtime Butte resident. “If the last river-dwelling population of the grayling in the continental U.S. is to survive, further action must be taken to reduce water withdrawals from the Big Hole River.”

Once found throughout the upper Missouri River drainage above Great Falls, the fluvial arctic grayling has been reduced to a single self-sustaining population in a short stretch of the Big Hole River. A primary factor in this range decline was, and continues to be, the dewatering of the grayling’s stream habitat and degradation of riparian areas. Extensive water withdrawals from the Big Hole River and seven consecutive years of drought continue to threaten the Big Hole population. In recent years, so few grayling have been found that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks have not been able to estimate their populations, suggesting grayling populations are on the brink of extinction.

“The grayling is a unique part of the natural heritage of Montana,” said Leah Elwell, conservation coordinator for the Federation of Fly Fishers. “Loss of the grayling would be a terrible tragedy for anglers, Montanans, and the nation.”

“The last Arctic grayling in the lower 48 states need water to survive,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who represented the groups in the case. “This settlement gives the Obama administration a chance to erase the mistakes of the past and recognize the urgent threat to this species.”

In response to litigation, the Obama administration has to date agreed to reconsider dozens of decisions by the Bush administration denying species protection or limiting the amount of designated critical habitat. The Center for Biological Diversity alone has sued to overturn Bush administration decisions covering 52 species, of which the administration has so far agreed to reconsider decisions over 25, including listing decisions for the Mexican garter snake and Gunnison sage grouse, as well as the grayling, and critical habitat designations for the northern spotted owl, California red-legged frog, California tiger salamander, arroyo toad, and others.

In their challenge of denial of protection for the grayling, the groups are represented by Tim Preso and Jenny Harbine of Earthjustice.


A member of the salmon family, the arctic grayling is a beautiful fish with a prominent dorsal fin that is widely distributed across Canada and Alaska. Historically, fluvial populations of arctic grayling existed in only two places in the lower 48 states: Michigan and the upper Missouri River of Montana. Populations in Michigan went extinct by the 1930s, and populations in Montana were restricted to the Big Hole River by the end of the 1970s. Studies demonstrate that Montana fluvial arctic grayling are genetically distinct from populations in Canada and Alaska, and genetically and behaviorally distinct from lake populations in Montana and other states. Studies also show that grayling adapted to lake environments do not maintain their position in rivers but instead allow themselves to drift downstream.






  1. jdubya Avatar

    This is good to see but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The Fed’s seem loath to embrace ESA status for fish even though their track record has been, at times quite good (Greenback and Apache cutt’s as two examples). I am still waiting for them to put the Bonneville cutt on the list so we can clean out some of the brown trout infested waters that should be brim to brim with Bonne’s.

  2. Ken Cole Avatar

    Let’s hope that the political meddling is over. Slickspot Peppergrass is next to be listed.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    One thing to remember is that most of the reconsiderations of species over the last year have been the result of Julie McDonald’s meddling when she was the deputy secretary of Interior.

    Assuming no species goes extinct because of the delay, it could be argued her illegal actions may have been a help.

  4. Larry Zuckerman Avatar

    Another one that is in the long, Julie MacDonald-created queue for ESA-listing consideration is the Big Lost River mountain whitefish. Recently Western Watersheds Project submitted substantial comments, revealing photographs of a devastated landscape, and new technical and FOIAed information for the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider in their ESA listing decision. The biggest revelation to me was that there is an underlying pubic support for the imperiled Big Lost River mountain whitefish and its dewatered and denatured Big Lost River watershed, even from members of long-time ranching and irrigation families in the Mackey and Arco, Idaho areas. Some of the public comments available on website (search for whitefish and open the docket) are not only eye-opening, but also heart-warming and recharging for us within the ESA battleground.

    Like the Montana fluvial grayling, the facade of a collaboration among irrigators, ranchers, State natural resource agencies, Federal land management agencies like the Forest Service and BLM, and the Federal regulatory agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is usually footing most of the bills for another long-drink at the Federal welfare trough for ag America, is being foisted at us to avoid the dreaded ESA protections.

    And who pays for all this razz-ma-tazz, we, the Federal taxpayers and general public do!


    Larry Zuckerman, Central Idaho Director, WWP, Salmon


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan