Billings, Montana - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today its finding that the Upper Missouri River Distinct Population Segment (DPS) of the Arctic grayling does not warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service reached this conclusion after analyzing the significant conservation efforts carried out by private landowners as well as federal and state agency partners to improve conditions for Arctic grayling in the Upper Missouri River basin.
These efforts have helped bring the species to the point that it is not in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future, i.e., does not meet the definition of an endangered or threatened species under the ESA.
Private landowners in the Big Hole and Centennial valleys worked through a voluntary Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) to achieve significant conservation of grayling within its range. Since 2006, over 250 conservation projects have been implemented under the CCAA to conserve Arctic grayling and its habitat, including: riparian fencing, irrigation flow reductions, improved irrigation infrastructure, fish ladders, improved stock water systems, and both passive and active stream restoration. Habitat quality has improved and grayling populations have more than doubled since the CCAA began in 2006.
"This is a prime example of what a CCAA can do, not only for wildlife, but also for sustaining the way of life in rural ranching community," said Service Director Dan Ashe. "The conservation progress for Arctic grayling would not have been possible without the amazing support we have received from willing landowners and other partners in the Big Hole River and Centennial valleys."
The cooperation between the federal and state partners serves as a model for voluntary conservation across the country. Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation developed a new system to improve in-stream flows in the Big Hole Watershed, while the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service helped implement conservation measures for grayling. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks administered the Big Hole CCAA, hired biologists to work directly with landowners, raised grayling to bolster existing populations and worked to better understand the needs of grayling.
"Our focused federal, state and local efforts paid off not only for the Arctic grayling, but for the ranchers who voluntarily invested in long-term, sustainable conservation," said USDA Undersecretary Robert Bonnie." This conservation success story demonstrates that voluntary conservation works when ranchers, agencies and other partners work together to conserve habitat."
"This is an historic day for Montana and for the Big Hole Valley," said Jeff Hagener, Director of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. "Montana has worked to restore arctic grayling for the past 25 years, and we've depended on support from private landowners every step of the way. This success story begins with the 33 ranching families who live and work along the river and saw the value in restoring grayling. We wouldn't be here today without their cooperation."
"Today is about the citizens of Montana's Big Hole Valley," said Montana Governor Steve Bullock. "These hard-working families proved that when a small group of dedicated citizens work together, great things can be achieved. The conservation of the Arctic grayling truly is a great achievement that builds upon our rich tradition of protecting Montana's remarkable natural resources."
This notice will publish in the Federal Register on August 20, 2014. For more information, see http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/fish/grayling/grayling.htm.