Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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Coasters could be listed as endangered

Washington – One of the Great Lake’s rarest fish, the coaster
brook trout, has passed the first hurdle for becoming listed as an
endangered species.

In a decision two years in the making, the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service has agreed to review further information based on
a petition presented to the agency by several concerned parties
advocating for listing the species.

“The petition offered substantial scientific information,” said
Jessica Hogrefe, a USFWS biologist. “We are now soliciting comments
from the public at large in order to make a final decision.”

The petitioners, the Sierra Club, Huron Mountain Club, and
Marvin Roberson, originally submitted their request in March of
2006. It was not immediately addressed because the USFWS was
considering several higher priority listings. The petitioning
parties filed a compliant in U.S. District Court last December in
order to move the process ahead.

A number of public and private organizations, including
governmental entities, tribal councils, universities, and
conservation groups have made efforts to restore coasters. There
has been some success, but the petitioners, who support these
activities, believe status for the coasters as an endangered
species will contribute to achieving this goal.

“This action, if taken, would greatly enhance federal and state
restoration programs,” said Roberson, is a lifelong member of the
Sierra Club.

Roberson said that a listing of the coaster under the Endangered
Species Act would mandate a more comprehensive restoration plan and
result in increased funding for research, law enforcement, habitat
improvement, and reintroduction.

It also would give officials legal authority to improve dams and
other water barriers that impede fish migration, prevent other
hazards to coasters, such as riparian alterations and streamside
land development, as well as regulate fishing for them.

The petitioners were able to demonstrate that sedimentation from
road construction to historic spawning grounds and the significant
depression in numbers of spawning adults have significantly
threatened the continuation of the species. They also provided
evidence that the coaster population in U.S. waters was a distinct
species, different than stream-dwelling brookies or the coaster
population living in Canadian waters such as the Nipigon River.

“The petition stage is designed to make the argument for public
input, and we are encouraged by approval of this next phase,”
Roberson said.

Once abundant in as many as 120 rivers in the Upper Great Lakes,
native populations of coaster brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)
can be found now in only three streams on the American side of Lake
Superior.

The trout gets its name from the fact that it spends a
significant portion of its life cruising the rocky shoals and
shorelines along the edge of coldwater lakes such as Superior,
returning to streams to spawn. Coasters can exceed 2 feet in length
and may weigh more than 8 pounds, dwarfing the typical brook trout
found in Michigan streams.

In the early logging days of the 19th Century, coasters – easily
caught and tasty to eat – were a major tourist attraction. The vast
stocks seemed inexhaustible, but, as with its cousin the grayling,
the numbers did not last.

With the addition of habitat loss, pollution, lack of
regulation, and the introduction of new competitors such as brown
trout, salmon, and steelhead, the coasters all but disappeared by
the early 20th Century

This public input phase comes as Kennecott Minerals Company has
obtained almost all of the necessary permits to drill a sulfide
mine on the Salmon Trout River, located on the Yellow Dog Plains in
the western portion of the Upper Peninsula.

It is the potential holding ground for a number of precious
mineral deposits such as copper and nickel. Conservationists fear a
mine might, among other factors, affect the native stock of coaster
brook trout that use the cool, clear waters of the Salmon Trout for
spawning. KMC has made assurances that the project will not harm
the environment and does not see any problem with the petition.

“Kennecott has designed the Eagle Project to be protective of
brook trout, rainbow trout, coasters, or any other fish living in
the Salmon Trout River,” said Jon Cherry, KMC’s environmental and
governmental affairs officer. “Based on this protective design, the
petition for listing should not have an impact on the permitting
process.”

The proposed mining site is not an area frequented by coasters.
It is blocked from migration by two dams, and is not ideal habitat
for the trout. Many still fear that sedimentation, acid mine
drainage (AMD) and dewatering, all potential threats from sulfide
mining, could affect coasters in their downstream haunts.

“In fact,” Roberson said, “Kennecott’s own application for the
Eagle Project itself indicates that water levels in the Salmon
Trout may be lowered as much as a half-foot from mining
activities.”

He adds, however, that there are other pressures to coasters
than just the possibility of sulfide mining.

“Logging practices, road building, poorly constructed bridges,
and competition from exotics such as rainbow trout are all
contributing to the extirpation of coasters,” he said. “Sulfide
mining is just another concern for their survival.”

The deadline to comment on the possible listing is May 19. To
comment or to read the full document concerning the petition, visit
www.regulations.gov. (Hint: type “coaster brook trout” in the key
words box).

U.S. mail may be addressed to: Public Comments Processing, Attn:
FWS-R3-ES-2008-0030, Division of Policy and Directives Management,
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222;,
Arlington, VA 22203.

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