Wildlife expert discusses steelhead closure, grizzly hunting ban

Image Courtesy: Bureau of Land Management via Flickr

Listen to KID NewsRadio’s full interview with Gregg Losinski

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Conservation groups and government agencies are going head to head in a possible legal battle over steelhead fish, and current litigation over grizzly bear protections.

Idaho Fish and Game recently announced anglers looking to fish for steelhead in Idaho would have to look somewhere else as threats of a lawsuit over steelhead conservation loomed. While officials ultimately reversed the steelhead season closure decision, Gregg Losinski, formerly of Idaho Fish and Game and world renowned bear expert, told KID NewsRadio the damage to businesses who rely on steelhead anglers was already done.

“[Anglers] may not take the time to search out what’s going to be open, what’s going to be closed, they’re just going to hear ‘closed’ and say, ‘Yeah, let’s not pack the car and drive to Idaho to fish or, you know, fly there. We’re going to go somewhere else where we’re not hearing about these threats of closures,'” Losinski said. “It becomes a kind of planning aspect and…our economic impact…of what people hear and then make a decision on.”

Losinski also pointed out conservation and environmentalist groups seem to only have lodged legal threats in Idaho and not the surrounding states.

“These threats are out there,” Losinski said. “They are made only towards Idaho, which is interesting because even if the threats would have gone through and Idaho would have closed their seasons, you still could have fished for steelhead if you had an Oregon or Washington license…these challenges aren’t being made scientifically and that’s probably the most frustrating thing for the folks that manage wildlife scientifically, as well as for those that are trying to be responsible in challenging management authority.”

Legal challenges like the ones Idaho now faces also do damage to the wildlife conservation groups are looking to protect, Losinski said. Idaho Fish and Game experts use data, research and study patterns in the species and populations the lawsuits seek to protect, he added. By tying the hands of anglers, hunters and even Idaho Fish and Game, experts cannot do their jobs to protect and maintain wild animals.

“The managers have data, they know what the history is, they know what can be done, what shouldn’t be done, and yet you can say, ‘Well, we’re going to sue,’ and that can just put the brakes on everything except that biology doesn’t stop just because of a lawsuit,” Losinki said. “Nature keeps on going, and so these resources need to be managed.”

In fact, Losinski said, biology and science has been telling Idaho Fish and Game plenty about the impact steelhead fishing season has on the wild population of fish. A normal season impacts just three percent of the wild steelhead population since Idaho Fish and Game contribute to the population with steelhead fish bred in hatcheries.

“Even if we went ahead with the full season, there would only be a three percent impact on those fish,” Loninski said. “So again, not a huge dent in the population and it certainly is something that’s been going on for decades and there’s other issues rather than just that three percent harvest that need to be addressed…that’s the unfortunate part that all this was being done over something that really isn’t a scientific concern. ”

While the future of the lawsuit remains to be seen, anglers can still score some steelhead fish this season. Idaho Fish and Game reversed the decision to close the season, and instead opted to only closed two areas to fishing.

“There’s still plenty of other areas out there to go fish…even with those two closures in place,” Losinski said. “So, that’s the good news. There’s miles and miles of streams to be fished. Again, the bad news is the message that it sends to people that are still contemplating on coming because they may not take the time to search out what’s going to be open, what’s going to be closed.”

The same can’t be said for hunters looking to land a bear this season. After a judge blocked what was to be the first bear hunt in the Lower 48 in almost half a century, people awarded a license to hunt a grizzly bear now find those tags gathering dust.

“There’s so many parallels between what’s pending with the salmon and what’s happening with the grizzlies,” Losinski said. “So, right now the grizzly bears in Yellowstone population are still a listed species. They are beyond all the goals that were set in the Endangered Species Act and that’s the frustrating part that you come up with scientific goals to take care of a certain species, and when you reach those goals and reach those goals and reach those goals, they’re being turned over because of litigation, not based on science but emotion, and that’s the problem that people want to manage on emotion, not on the science of the species that’s involved.”