Opponents of a proposed sulfide mine to be built near Big Bay on the Yellow Dog Plain won a potentially significant victory March 20, 2008, when the United States Fish and Wildlife Service agreed that sufficient scientific evidence exists to consider listing the coaster brook trout as an endangered species.

If the coaster were to become listed as an endangered species, environmentalists would have a powerful tool to employ in forcing more stringent environmental standards on the mine operators because the mine, proposed by Kennecott Minerals, is planned to be excavated beneath the Salmon Trout River, which is the last remaining river on the Michigan mainland where the coaster still spawns. The fish is also thought to spawn near Isle Royale and in a few other Lake Superior rivers. The large and beautiful coaster once swam by the millions in Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Superior, and Europeans traveled here in the 1800’s to catch the easily caught species. But the coaster’s numbers have steadily slid down, and today it’s estimated that 200 adults spawn in the Salmon Trout River.

“We were delighted, and are cautiously optimistic that this first step will lead to a final decision listing the coaster as endangered,” said Peter Dykema, a key organizer of the listing petition. Dykema is a member of the Huron Mountain Club, which owns several miles of the Salmon Trout River and land at the river’s mouth.

A central decision the Fish and Wildlife Service will have to make is whether the coaster brook trout is truly distinct from the common brook trout. Some fish biologists have long contended that the coaster is simply a brook trout that swims out to Lake Superior and grows larger in the big water—a number of fish species grow smaller or larger based on the nature of the water they happen to live in.

“The coaster brook trout is but one example of the beautiful and pristine environment that surrounds the proposed mine site” Dykema says. “It is our hope that a full appreciation of the value, and rarity of the coaster, will lead state and federal regulators carefully to scrutinize whether a sulfide mine can be operated in this location without irretrievably damaging some of the state’s most precious resources.”

Find a copy of the FWS notice at: www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/.