The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has
initiated a five-year review of the Kootenai River white sturgeon and 17 other
species protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The agency has opened a 60-day period to
receive scientific and commercial information that has developed since the
protected species were first listed. Government agencies, tribes, stakeholder
groups and the public are asked to submit comments by July 6.
Kootenai River white sturgeon were listed as
“endangered” in 1994 in response to sharp population declines. Conservation
efforts started in the late 1970s when Montana and Idaho banned sturgeon
fishing, and expanded in 1991 with construction of the Kootenai Tribe of
Idaho’s sturgeon hatchery in Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho. The tribe has also led ongoing
habitat restoration work to improve spawning conditions on the river since
Status reviews of all listed species are
required by the ESA at least once every five years to determine whether the classifications
of threatened or endangered are still warranted. A species could be recommended
for down-listing from endangered to threatened, or de-listing.
Any recommended change would be subject to a
separate rule-making process that would entail further public involvement. If
no change is recommended, the species would retain its current listing status.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service,
the Kootenai River’s wild sturgeon population now consists of an aging cohort
of large, old fish. The population has declined from about 7,000 white sturgeon
in the late 1970s to 760 fish in 2000. At the current mortality rate of 9
percent per year, fewer than 500 adults remained in 2005 and there may be fewer
than 50 remaining by 2030. Current data indicate that population abundance
declines by about half every 7.4 years. Estimates show that annually an average
of 10 juvenile sturgeon are naturally reproduced in the Kootenai River. This
suggests high levels of mortality which are unlikely to sustain the historic
population of Kootenai sturgeon.
The Kootenai Tribe’s hatchery program has
produced thousands of sturgeon that have been stocked in the river, but because
the long-lived fish take 25-30 years to reach spawning maturity, the first
hatchery progeny are just now reaching that age.
Spawning among the remaining wild sturgeon in
the river has been depressed, a trend that has been attributed to spawning
Kootenai River habitat restoration work near
Bonners Ferry got underway in 2011, and continues with the Lower Meander
Project, which involves improving riverbank stability, and developing
high-quality, deep pools in the river to support sturgeon migration to upstream
habitats in the Braided and Canyon reaches. Other work has involved fill and
plantings to promote riparian development and provide food web support.
Other USFWS Pacific Region species to be
reviewed include the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit, Hawaiian hoary bat, Hawaiian
stilt, three species of invertebrates, and 11 species of plants. A list of the species, their current listing
classifications, and more information is available at https://www.fws.gov/pacific/ecoservices/endangered/recovery/documents/Five_Year_Review_Spp_R1_2017B.pdf