Forest Service, Colorado Springs Utility ignore endangered species laws
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Rare and threatened greenback cutthroat trout are struggling in Colorado and need every good bit of aquatic habitat they can get. One of the most genetically pure populations lives in the Bear Creek drainage, west of Colorado Springs, but environmentalists say dirt bike riding near the stream poses a serious threat to their survival.
The population of cutthroat trout in Bear Creek is one of a kind and deserves better protection than it’s getting,” said Center for Biological Diversity endangered species director Noah Greenwald, explaining why the conservation group is getting ready to file a lawsuit to try and halt motorized use on the trail.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed formal notices of intent to sue the Pike National Forest and Colorado Springs Utility, charging that they’re not living up to the requirements of the Endangered Species Act to protect listed species. Greenback cutthroat trout have been listed since 1973 and state and federal agencies have made some progress in recovering the species.
There are only four populations of pure-strain greenback cutthroat trout in the world, and genetic studies suggest the Bear Creek population is unique — an irreplaceable element of Colorado’s natural history. The trout were nearly extirpated from over-fishing by early settlers, and the introduction of non-native trout, as well as numerous water diversions, nearly drove them to extinction.
“Protecting Bear Creek is absolutely critical to saving this unique population of cutthroat trout,” said Jack Hunter, trout enthusiast and former Colorado Springs resident. “Unlike motorcycle riders, the trout has nowhere else to go besides Bear Creek.”
In recent years, the Forest Service has taken action to address the well-recognized impacts of motorcycles in Bear Creek, where steep slopes and fragile soils are a recipe for destruction by the vehicles, including building bridges to keep some crossings out of the stream.
Despite these efforts, a habitat assessment conducted last year by an independent consultant found ongoing problems with motorcycles causing erosion into the creek, which smothers spawning beds and fills pools that provide critical habitat for the vanishing fish. Population surveys show the trout in steep decline in Bear Creek over the past few years.
“This problem can be solved by simply rerouting trails away from the creek and the trout,” said Greenwald. “We hope both the Forest Service and the utility will respond to the notices by taking urgently needed action to protect this disappearing fish.”
The notice to the Forest Service faults the agency for failing to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure permitting of motorcycle use along Bear Creek does not jeopardize the trout, which is required under the Endangered Species Act. A separate notice faults the Colorado Springs Utility for harming the trout, in direct violation of the Act.