Plum Creek unveils 30-year fish plan 

Montana’s native trout and salmon are about to experience the next wave.

Plum Creek Timber Company has announced the release of its draft Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for the protection of habitat for native fishes over the next 30 years. The plan covers native trout and salmon waters on 1.7 million acres of company land, 1.5 million acres of which lay within Montana, the balance being in Idaho and Washington.

The HCP is the preferred alternative of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Ted Kock, Plum Creek Project Leader with the USFWS, says that if the plan is adopted, the Service will issue a permit to Plum Creek allowing the “incidental take” of threatened or endangered salmon and trout species.

The plan covers seven areas of corporate operations that affect fisheries, including but not limited to logging, company roads, livestock grazing, and real estate development. A key element of the plan is something called “Adaptive Management” whereby new scientific and monitoring evidence can be used to change the HCP over time.

As Mike Jostrom, Native Fish Project Manager with Plum Creek, points out, the plan “is not only a conservation plan for fish habitat ... it is also a long-term business plan for the company.” The 30-year period was “part of the trick of developing the plan,” he adds, since similar initiatives, affectionately called “No Surprises” provisions, have been criticized in other parts of the country. Nationwide some concern has been voiced that the HCP approach is inflexible and blocks public legal challenge. This particular plan, Jostrom maintains, “builds in an approach that allows the plan to adapt to new science.”

“Plum Creek can still be sued under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act,” says Ted Kock, the Project Leader with the USFWS. The plan “reduces the legal liability but doesn’t eliminate it.” The incidental take permit issued by the Service simply “readjusts what the target is.”

But the new plan is not perfect. As Kock acknowledges, “If there is a weakness, there is a question whether the Service will be there with Plum Creek to implement the plan. If we’re not there the premise of the flexibility may not be there.”

Open meetings on the plan will be held through January, with public comment taken until Feb. 17.

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