Supreme Court Upholds Protections for Endangered Salmon

Recognizes government's authority to limit private water transfers


John Arum; Ziontz, Chestnut, Varnell, Berley & Slonim: 206-448-1230


Michael Mayer; Earthjustice: 206-343-7340 x 28

The Supreme Court today refused to hear a case challenging the Forest Service’s authority to protect endangered fish under the Endangered Species Act. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that the government could restrict private irrigation when moving the water over Forest Service land could dry up streams important to the survival of endangered chinook salmon and steelhead trout. Property rights advocate Pacific Legal Foundation then asked the Supreme Court to review the case after it lost in both the district and appellate courts. The Supreme Court’s refusal to take the case allows the Forest Service to continue protecting salmon and ends all avenues of appeal.

The case involved private irrigation ditches that cross Okanogan National Forest land, located east of the Cascades Mountains in the Methow River Basin of Washington. The Forest Service claimed that it could continue to allow the use of its land for irrigation ditches only if their use did not threaten ESA-listed fish or their habitat. Existing healthy streams in the Methow Basin are both scarce and particularly important for recovery of steelhead and chinook salmon because more than 1,100 miles of historically accessible rivers and streams are now blocked by Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia River. PLF led the legal challenge to the Forest Service’s position in an effort to limit the agency’s authority to protect healthy streams and wildlife.

Earthjustice and attorney John Arum, representing a number of local, state, and national environmental groups, intervened in the case to support the Forest Service’s position.

“This decision affirms what we have said all along: the Forest Service can protect salmon by conditioning the use of its land on protecting stream flows,” said Arum. “This is good news for salmon because the Forest Service manages so much salmon spawning habitat along the west coast.”

“Wild salmon are a vital part of life in the Pacific Northwest and this ruling supports that,” said Michael Mayer of Earthjustice. “We hope that this will help convince folks to stop fighting salmon protection and instead start working together to find solutions.”

The environmental organizations represented in the case are Washington Environmental Council, Okanogan Wilderness League, Center For Environmental Law & Policy, Defenders of Wildlife, Trout Unlimited, and American Rivers.


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