For Immediate Release, September 2, 2008
Kootenai Tribe of Idaho: Billy Barquin, Kootenai Tribal Attorney at (503) 201-6631 (cell) and Sue Ireland, Kootenai Fish and Wildlife Director at (208) 267-3620
Center for Biological Diversity: Noah Greenwald, science director, (503) 484-7495
Western Environmental Law Center: Geoff Hickox, Staff Attorney, (970) 382-5902
Montana: Bruce Measure, Montana member and vice-chair, Northwest Power Planning Council, (406) 444-2436
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Tom Buckley, External Affairs, Upper Columbia Fish and Wildlife Office (509) 893-8029
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Nola Leyde, Corps Public Affairs at (503) 808-3722
Bonneville Power Administration: Scott Simms, BPA Public Affairs at (503) 230-3502
Conservation Groups, the State of Montana, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho
and Federal Agencies Reach Historic Agreement to
Help Save the Kootenai River White Sturgeon
BONNERS FERRY, Idaho— After extensive negotiations, the Center for Biological Diversity, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, and state and federal officials have reached an important settlement agreement that will help save the Kootenai River white sturgeon from extinction.
The Center and Tribe, along with the State of Montana, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration submitted the agreement today to the District Court of Montana for approval.
The Kootenai River white sturgeon was listed as an endangered species on Sept. 6, 1994 after studies showed its population was dwindling due to dam operations along waterways where the fish lives, degraded water quality, and loss of habitat. The adult population has been decreasing at an estimated rate of 9 percent per year. Restoration efforts in recent years have focused on managing Libby Dam to allow for releases of water to mimic spring flow conditions, which officials hope will help the sturgeon to reproduce in larger numbers.
“The Kootenai River white sturgeon is on the brink of extinction,” said Noah Greenwald, science director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “This historic agreement helps give the sturgeon a shot at survival.”
Under the agreement, the Corps will submit a request to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to clarify portions of the 2006 Biological Opinion for the sturgeon. The clarifications – submitted by the Corps on behalf of itself and the Bonneville Power Administration – include language that allows for continuation of interim operations at Libby Dam through 2009 that seek to control water temperature and flows that should assist sturgeon reproduction.If these measures are not successful, the Corps will use Libby Dam’s spillway, within specified parameters, to test increased flows – again, with the intent of helping the sturgeon to reproduce.
In the long term, the Corps will consider modifications to the selective withdrawal system at Libby Dam to more reliably and efficiently manage temperature of water releases. The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, with federal funding and support, will carry out a restoration project to improve habitat conditions for the sturgeon.
“The sturgeon are central to Kootenai culture and we have worked hard toward their recovery in collaboration with our co-sovereigns, the Corps, Bonneville Power Administration, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service” said Kym Cooper, Kootenai tribal vice-chairperson “It is through this sovereign collaboration that we have ensured that all governments with responsibility to the sturgeon are working together in a way that makes sense,” continued Cooper.
Two conservation organizations – the Center for Biological Diversity and Wild West Institute, which were represented by the Western Environmental Law Center – filed the most recent round of litigation in September 2007 in federal district court in Missoula, Mont. The lawsuit challenged the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2006 Biological Opinion regarding the effects of Libby Dam operations on the Kootenai River white sturgeon and its critical habitat and the bull trout. The suit also alleged that the Service did not prescribe adequate measures to protect the sturgeon.
“After nearly six years of litigation, the parties have agreed to a plan that will help save the sturgeon,” said Geoff Hickox, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who represented the conservation organizations. “We are deeply appreciative of the hard work being done to save the sturgeon on the part of the many individuals involved with this agreement.”
In June 2006, the State of Montana intervened in the case to protect its interests above and below Libby Dam and to pursue stable operations at that facility to protect Endangered Species Act-protected white sturgeon, bull trout, and other important resident fish. The Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, which has been a leader in the basin to save the sturgeon, last of the largest freshwater fish in America, also intervened in June 2006 to support the Biological Opinion.
“ Montana will do all it can to protect our fish and people above and below Libby Dam,” said Bruce Measure, a Montana member of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council and its vice chair. “This agreement provides a base to help the sturgeon, protect other resident fish in the process, and allow actions and operations to proceed that local biologists know have the best chance of benefiting endangered white sturgeon. I would like to personally thank Governor (Brian) Schweitzer whose support and encouragement have been instrumental in helping us get to this point.”
The parties all have agreed that a River Restoration Project, a central component of a comprehensive Kootenai River ecosystem restoration and habitat improvement project being developed by the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho with federal funding and support, is important to long-term sturgeon recovery efforts. The Tribe has established design and policy committees consisting of representatives from the U.S. and Canada to assist it in its design. The master plan, due by Dec. 31st will include a funding strategy to implement the comprehensive plan.
“We’re designing the Project with our co-sovereign partners in a way that takes into account all the ecosystem needs and goes much further than what is required under the Endangered Species Act,” said Sue Ireland, the Kootenai Tribe’s Fish and Wildlife Director. Kootenai Tribal Chairperson Jennifer Porter adds: “We’re hoping our comprehensive project will lead to a healthy ecosystem and the return of our Kootenai resources.”
“We are very pleased that all parties have been able to reach an agreement” said Rich Torquemada, acting supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Spokane, Wash. “Now we can move forward with our partners in the important work of recovering this critically endangered species.”