Lawsuit claims Grant-Kohrs Ranch is illegally endangering survival of bull trout
A new lawsuit’s premise is straightforward: In the federal government’s zeal to save a piece of history, it may be committing bull trout to history in the heart of Montana, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Butte.
The case, brought by two organizations, Save the Bull Trout and Alliance for the Wild Rockies, said that the U.S. Department of the Interior and West Side Ditch Company are violating the Endangered Species Act in order to preserve the Grant-Kohrs Ranch national historic site.
The ranch, near Deer Lodge, has more than 85 buildings on a 1,600-acre cattle ranch that seeks to preserve ranching as it was during the frontier era of Montana and the West.
However, the lawsuit argues that the water being used to support livestock and ranching at this federally managed historic site threatens to kill the fragile bull trout population nearby, and that both the ditch company and the Department of The Interior are violating the Endangered Species Act.
When contacted by the Daily Montanan, officials for the Interior acknowledged the lawsuit, but said they would not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit said that the United States Fish and Wildlife Service designated more than 62 miles of the Upper Clark Fork River as “critical habitat” for bull trout which is listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.
“The Department of The Interior diverts water from the West Side Ditch for ‘cultural’ agricultural purposes – namely stock watering and flood irrigation,” the lawsuit said. “The (diversions), combined with anomalously warm summer temperatures have caused extremely low streamflows on the Upper Clark Fork River in nine out of the last 16 years.”
The suit points out that those levels have been lower for years. For example, during July and August 2015, the average daily flows at the Deer Lodge station dropped below 100 cubic-feet-per-second for 47 days, when the recommended volume is nearly twice that.
“The DOI’s ‘cultural’ agricultural watering at the Grant-Kohrs Ranch has effectively dewatered the Upper Clark Fork River, resulting in not enough instream flow for the bull trout to survive,” the suit said. “The DOI’s agricultural practices at the GKR has so adversely modified the bull trout’s critical habitat that the species cannot survive in that portion of the Upper Clark Fork River, much less spawn or migrate to headwaters streams.”