Federal Government Sued for Failing Northwest Salmon

Snake River Operations Violate Endangered Species Act


Steve Mashuda, Earthjustice, 206-343-7340, ext. 27


Bill Sedivy, Idaho Rivers United, 208-343-7481; h – (208) 853-3429


Rob Masonis, American Rivers, 206-213-0330 ext.12


Jan Hasselman, NWF, 206-285-8707

A coalition of environmentalists and fishing organizations has sued the federal agency responsible for protecting and restoring salmon and steelhead populations, arguing that a “Biological Opinion” governing management of the Upper Snake River Basin violates the Endangered Species Act by failing to protect listed salmon and steelhead.

NOAA Fisheries, a division of the Commerce Department, in 2000 and 2001 released two separate, but related biological opinions governing operation of dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The biological opinion concerning the Lower Snake and Columbia Rivers was held to be illegal by a federal judge in Oregon and is being rewritten. An opinion concerning the Upper Snake is what is being challenged in the lawsuit filed today.

The Upper Basin opinion concerns 22 dams operated by the Bureau of Reclamation that store water for irrigation. In dry years, not enough water is released from the dams at times critical to the survival of baby salmon as they make their way downstream to the ocean. The biggest culprit in the disastrous decline of many species of salmon (only two sockeye made it to their namesake Redfish Lake in Idaho to spawn last year) is four large, obsolete dams on the Lower Snake in eastern Washington. Scientists, fishermen, conservation groups, and small businesses have pushed for breaching those dams. With the dams in place, however, young salmon and steelhead need water from the Upper Snake system to help carry them through the slack-water reservoirs where slow-moving water, high temperatures, and predators take a massive toll on the migrating fish. .

Earthjustice is representing Idaho Rivers United, American Rivers, National Wildlife Federation, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, and the Institute for Fisheries Resources in the case. The suit seeks to force NOAA Fisheries to evaluate how much water is needed for helping salmon past the dams on the Lower Snake River and to write a single biological opinion encompassing the entire Columbia/Snake Basin, an opinion that will not violate the Endangered Species Act.

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