Trout coalition relies on fishy science

Published April 1, 2002

The Western Native Trout Campaign, an environmentalist coalition spearheaded by The Center for Biological Diversity, issued a report last November calling for the preservation of all roadless areas in the western states.

The report, titled “Imperiled Western Trout and the Importance of Roadless Areas,” examines the correlation between the presence of certain native trout species and the absence of roads in their habitat. It finds that for many—though not all—of the trout species examined, viable populations tend to be found in wilderness areas, national parks, and other public lands where road-building has been limited.

The coalition concludes that “the full protection of all roadless public land” is essential for preservation and restoration of western native trout. The report, though, is more an advocacy piece than a work of science.

Common sense would dictate that undisturbed areas where these species currently exist are best managed with protection of trout habitat as a significant priority. But the Trout Campaign’s report calls repeatedly for locking up all roadless lands–regardless of whether or not they contain trout habitat. Their report reaches far beyond its own findings, yet it is being paraded as further “evidence” in support of reviving former President Bill Clinton’s ill-conceived Roadless Areas Initiative.

The coalition’s research gives short shrift to the many factors responsible for the decline of the eight native trout species it analyzed. Introduction of non-native trout, beginning over one hundred years ago, has been a major detriment to the native species they either displaced or hybridized with. Unregulated market fishing in the nineteenth century, along with irresponsible water diversion projects during that period, also had a significant impact on trout populations.

But The Center for Biological Diversity and its coalition partners overlook these important factors and insist road-building has been the primary reason for the trouts’ decline. Roads built for logging and public access are blamed not only for increasing sediment loads, but also for a host of other purported ills. “Roads have many other indirect impacts detrimental to native trout,” the report states. “They provide increased access for overfishing … they also provide pathways for pathogens like whirling disease and an increased likelihood of toxic spills.”

Such far-reaching assertions undermine the report’s credibility. Sensible people will see it for what it is—just another tool environmental activists are using to push their land-lockup agenda.

Brooks Pangburn is a freelance writer, formerly with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.