For Immediate Release, July 9, 2008
Contact: Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495
Critical Habitat Finalized for Kootenai River White Sturgeon
Changes in Operation of Libby Dam Desperately Needed to Restore
Critical Habitat and Save Sturgeon From Extinction
SPOKANE, Wash.— Responding to a court order in a suit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and WildWest Institute, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today finalized critical habitat for the Kootenai River white sturgeon, including an additional 7.1 miles of the river above Bonner’s Ferry.
“Finalization of critical habitat is welcome news for the Kootenai River white sturgeon,” said Noah Greenwald, science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The sturgeon is on the brink of extinction and desperately needs restoration of critical habitat to survive.”
Kootenai River white sturgeon, which were listed as endangered in 1994, require large spring flows, water temperatures in the range of 10 degrees, and gravel riverbed to successfully spawn. Following completion of Libby Dam in 1974, spring flows were drastically reduced, and the sturgeon has not successfully spawned since. The original critical habitat, which includes 11.2 miles of river below Bonner’s Ferry and is still in place, primarily included areas that have a sandy riverbed and thus do not provide sufficient habitat for the sturgeon to successfully spawn. Today’s final designation of critical habitat includes an additional 7.1 miles of critical habitat, nearly all of which has a gravel riverbed, as required by the sturgeon.
“Designation of critical habitat places a clear mandate on the Army Corps of Engineers to manage Libby Dam to recover the sturgeon,” said Greenwald.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has thrice issued biological opinions, the first of which was issued in 1995, requiring the Corps to provide larger spring flows from Libby Dam either by adding additional turbines or by spilling water over the spillway. To date, the Corps has yet to provide these flows. As an alternative to larger flows, the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho has proposed a restoration project that will reconfigure the channel to provide the flows and depth needed by the sturgeon under the existing release capacity of the dam. The feasibility of this massive project or the amount of time it will require, however, have not been determined. Meanwhile, the sturgeon is running out of time. Population models estimate that there may be fewer than 30 spawners after 2015.
“The Army Corps can no longer ignore its responsibilities to save the Kootenai River white sturgeon from the abyss of extinction,” said Greenwald. “It’s time for the Corps to stop dragging its feet and throw a lifeline to the sturgeon by providing the habitat it needs to survive, including large spring flows at the right temperature.”
The groups were represented by Geoff Hickox and Ronni Flannery of Western Environmental Law Center.
Background on the Kootenai River White Sturgeon
The Kootenai River white sturgeon is one of 18 landlocked populations of the normally anadromous white sturgeon. It is believed to have been isolated from other white sturgeon since the last glacial age and exhibits unique adaptations to the environment of the Kootenai River. The white sturgeon is a long-lived species that can grow to impressive size. A white sturgeon caught in Kootenai Lake weighed 350 pounds and was believed to be 85 to 90 years old. There are 24 species of sturgeon worldwide descending from a line that extends back 250 million years, most of which are threatened with extinction.