AWR Blog

Lack of Consultation on Dams in Bull Trout Critical Habitat Spurs Lawsuit

By Mike Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, 406-459-5936

Bull trout are already extinct in California, inhabit only one stream system in Nevada, and are “at high risk of extinction in Oregon, Washington, and parts of Idaho” according to the U.S.D.A.’s Natural Resource Conservation Service, which also found “Montana bull trout are considered secure in only 2 percent of the stream segments they inhabit.” They were listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 1998 and in 2010 “critical habitat” for the imperiled fish was designated throughout the Columbia River Basin.

“Bull trout populations have continued to remain in a precarious state for almost 20 years since they were listed under the Endangered Species Act,” said Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “And the human-caused threats that led to their listing continue to exist and have even accelerated. Consequently, and in the face of intransigence by the federal agencies tasked with their recovery, the Alliance for the Wild Rockies filed suit in federal court in Portland, Oregon, today against the Army Corp of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Administration and the Bureau of Reclamation for failing to complete consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for federally-operated dams in bull trout critical habitat.”

The Endangered Species Act requires that the Army Corp of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Administration and the Bureau of Reclamation consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on the dams they manage in bull trout critical habitat to ensure that agency operations will not result in the destruction or adverse modification of bull trout critical habitat.

The effected hydroelectric projects are Libby, Dworshak, Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental, Ice Harbor, McNary, John Day, The Dalles, Hungry Horse, Albeni Falls, Grand Coulee, Chief Joseph, Bonneville, Cougar, Dexter, Lookout Point, Hills Creek, Blue River, and Fern Ridge dams in the Columbia River Basin.

Compared to other salmonids, bull trout have specific habitat requirements that include:
• very cold, clean water with little fine sediment in the stream bottom
• complex streams with intact riparian vegetation that provide shade, woody debris, bank stability and deep pools; and
• connected watersheds that allow fish to migrate from spawning streams to larger rivers, lakes or the ocean.

Human activities such as logging, road construction, dams, mining, grazing and urban development have negatively impacted bull trout habitat, causing widespread and significant population declines and local extirpations. In addition, overfishing and the introduction of exotic species have contributed to the ongoing demise of the species.

“There’s no question that the dams have changed river conditions to the detriment of bull trout,” Garrity explained. “Fact is, you can’t bring endangered species back from the brink of extinction without a plan, and the legally required formal consultation between the operating agencies and the Fish and Wildlife Service will hopefully provide a road map to recovery by identifying the actions that are needed to realistically address threats to bull trout with these dams.”

“As bull trout continue to decline, and since the law requires specific actions by federal agencies, we have no choice but to go to court to force these agencies to follow the law,” Garrity continued. “We notified the agencies in May that we intended to file a lawsuit if the required consultation was not initiated in a timely manner. The agencies have been telling us for years that they were going to do this but have not and now it is time to force them to quit procrastinating.”

“Bull trout can’t wait, they need these agencies to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on how to manage the dams so they don’t kill bull trout and they need to do it now, as required by law,” concluded Garrity. “Their very survival depends on it and that’s what has once again forced our hand to make the agencies follow the law and ensure that bull trout remain viable for future generations.”

Click here to see the complaint.

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