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USFWS Initiates Five-Year ESA Status Listing Of Kootenai River White Sturgeon
Posted on Friday, May 11, 2018 (PST)

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 2011.


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 habitat deficiencies.


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


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