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Score One for Native Fish! Western Watersheds Project Wins on Camas Creek in the Frank Church River-Of-No-Return Wilderness in Idaho!

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Chinook salmon, bull trout, and steelhead will swim in clearer waters this year after Western Watersheds Project successful litigation on the Camas Creek allotment of Central Idaho. The lawsuit was filed in April 2012 because of Endangered Species Act violations and unlawful taking of protected species through cattle trampling, degraded water quality and wallowing that harmed fish eggs and redds. On April 15, 2013 the suit was successfully settled by WWP with the Salmon-Challis National Forest, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Services, Jack Whitworth and Whitworth Ranches.  The agencies agreed to complete a new biological consultation for impacts to anadromous fish and bull trout and no livestock grazing can occur pending completion of this consultation!

The Camas Creek allotment is especially important for these native fishes because of the genetic purity of the wild Chinook and steelhead. Research has demonstrated that even one trampling event can have profound effects on fish eggs, with potentially thousands of fish killed in each incident. In addition to the Forest Service’s own documentation of livestock damage on fish redds, WWP documented 33 cows inside a critical spawning “livestock exclosure.” It is clear that public oversight and citizen involvement was the only thing that would fix this ongoing issue.

Rather than hail WWP as champions of native wildlife, the Forest Service instead set out to prove that WWP had let the cows into the exclosures! The agency set up “critter cams” intent on catching our staff and volunteers leaving gates open, trying to blame us for the trespassing cattle. As outlandish as that seems, it also shows that the agency would rather try to catch conservationists than catch livestock operators violating federal law. So much for insufficient resources!

WWP is grateful for our great legal team of Kristin Ruether and Laurie Rule at Advocates for the West, Biologist Larry Zuckerman, WWP 2012 Summer Intern Alex Brott and Biologist Bob House for their help in protecting Camas Creek and all its wildlife from the adverse effects of livestock grazing.

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