See coverage of this press release here:
November 23, 2019
Contact: Mike Garrity Executive Director, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, 406 459-5936
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has agreed to formally consult with and seek a Biological Opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) addressing bull trout fatalities in Saint Mary Diversion Dam & Canal and Milk River Irrigation Project after the Alliance for the Wild Rockies sent 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue the Trump administration in September. Following a similar Notice from the Alliance and co-plaintiff Save the Bull Trout, the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest also agreed to consult with FWS on bull trout entrainment in the East Fork of Rock Creek Reservoir, which borders the Anaconda-Pintlar Wilderness Area. In both cases, the legally-required actions by the federal agencies were long overdue.
Saint Mary Diversion Dam & Canal and Milk River Irrigation Project
“Bull trout are listed as ‘Threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “But they are being killed by the hundreds every year due to poor dam design, unscreened diversions into irrigation ditches, and river dewatering in this federal dam and irrigation project.”
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation are agencies within the Department of the Interior that have a statutory duty to take active steps to protect and restore endangered species,” Garrity explained. “But they have not done so.”
“Simply put, this irrigation project takes the cold, clean and abundant water coming out of Glacier National Park and diverts it into shallow, sun-warmed irrigation ditches,” Garrity explained. “But bull trout require cold, clean, and connected water, which is not found in sun-warmed irrigation ditches from which there is no escape. If we’re ever going to recover bull trout and remove them from the Endangered Species List, we have to take steps to stop needless and easily preventable fatalities, such as being stranded and killed in irrigation ditches.
“The effect on native fish is so great that the irrigation project has been identified as the primary threat to bull trout in the Saint Mary Recovery Unit,” Garrity continued. “And the main aspects of the project responsible for these threats are the design and management of the Saint Mary Diversion Dam, which results in the entrainment of up to 600 juvenile bull trout each year, and also impairs the upstream passage of pre-spawning adult bull trout; and the operation of the Sherburne Dam, which results in low or no flows that leave downstream water far too warm for bull trout survival.
“Installing self-cleaning fish screens at the point of diversion is a simple and effective way to keep bull trout from dying in irrigation ditches,” Garrity pointed out. “These fish screens are widely used in Montana and across the West since they let the water through but keep bull trout and other fish out of the ditches. Unfortunately, up to now the federal agencies have refused to install them.” But after our threat to take court action, we’re very pleased to announce that the Bureau of Reclamation finally sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and WIldlife Service last week ‘requesting initiation of Endangered Species Act section 7 consultation for bull trout within the Milk River project, St. Mary Unit, Montana.’”
East Fork of Rock Creek Irrigation diversion
“The East Fork of Rock Creek Reservoir sits on National Forest land and is filled by the clean and cold water that pours from the Anaconda-Pintlar Wilderness,” Garrity explained. “Six years ago the Fish and Wildlife Service released a Biological Opinion on the East Fork Rock Creek Fish Screen that identified several areas of concern to bull trout, including effective minimum pool height of the reservoir, flushing flows, instream flows and dewatering, entrainment in irrigation ditches, and degraded stream channels.”
The Forest Service was then ordered to conduct further consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service as well as the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, which manages the reservoir. The Forest Service was supposed to assume and implement the terms and conditions of an “Incidental Take Statement” issued by the Fish and Wildlife Service in order to address the impacts to bull trout from reservoir management including controlling water storage and the volume of water releases, the management of the headgate to divert water to the Flint Creek Ditch, and the operation, evaluation, and maintenance of the fish screen.
“Unfortunately, the Forest Service has not complied with these requirements and is in violation of the law, which is why we issued the Notice of Intent to Sue the agency,” Garrity said. “We’re very pleased to announce that last week the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest agreed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on bull trout entrainment in the East Fork of Rock Creek Reservoir and we’re very much looking forward to keeping bull trout out of irrigation ditches and on the road to recovery.
“It’s well known that the Trump administration has a horrific record on endangered species. As our planet gets hotter, it’s making it even more difficult for bull trout to survive,” Garrity concluded. “The Trump administration and the Department of Interior don’t need to make recovery even more difficult by allowing hundreds of bull trout to needlessly die every year in warm water irrigation ditches. The Alliance will to continue to hold the agencies’ feet to the fire and force them to comply with their legal obligations to protect endangered species. We promise to watch these agencies closely, and as we have made plain, if they do not actually complete consultation in a timely manner, we will take them to court to force them to protect and restore the bull trout which are a native fish legacy that belongs to all Americans.”
Please find the 60-day Notices of Intent to Sue attached along with the federal agencies’ responses.