Center for Biological Diversity
Protecting endangered species and wild
places of western North America
For Immediate Release:
April 4, 2001
For More Information:
GROUPS CALL FOR DECOMMISSIONING OF LIBBY DAM, PROTECTION OF ENTIRE KOOTENAI RIVER WATERSHED TO SAVE ENDANGERED STURGEON
In comments submitted to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Ecology Center, and the Alliance for the Wild Rockies call for the decommissioning of the Libby Dam to save the endangered Kootenai River White Sturgeon from extinction. They also asked the agency to increase its proposed sturgeon "critical habitat" areas from 11.2 miles on state land in Idaho to included the entire Kootenai River watershed within the U.S.
is fiddling while the Kootenai River sturgeon goes extinct," said
Bruce Eilerts, Associate Director of the Center for Biological Diversity.
"It is more concerned with avoiding controversy than saving the sturgeon.
Everyone knows that Libby Dam is the culprit. It's time to take the problem
head on." Mike Wood, Staff Attorney at the Alliance for the Wild
Rockies states "There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that
dam decommissioning is the most effective and, in the long-run, least
costly means of recovering the endangered sturgeon and several other species
of rare native fish. The dam should therefore be decommissioned."
By disrupting the river's natural flood cycle and covering over cobbles with sand, Libby Dam and the extensive system of dikes below it have essentially prevented the Kootenai River sturgeon from successfully reproducing since 1975.
Virtually all sturgeon
in the river today are over 25 years old. In a few years they will be
too old to reproduce and will go extinct. "If dam management does
not change soon and change dramatically, these fish will become the living
dead," said Eilerts. "They'll remain alive for another 25 years
or so, but being unable to reproduce, they will be functionally extinct."
Female sturgeons live to between 35 and 70 years. The age at which they
stop reproducing is not known, but reproduction appears to end when the
fish near 35 years old.
In their comments, the environmental groups point out that spawning success in the proposed critical habitat area has been hampered by regular siltation of sand. Rather than anchor safely to a rocky, river bottom, eggs in the proposed critical habitat zone get covered in sand and drift away.
The Kootenai River white sturgeon is restricted to approximately 168 river miles in the Kootenai River. This reach extends from Kootenai Falls, Montana, located 31 river miles below Libby Dam, downstream through Kootenay Lake to Cora Linn Dam at the outflow from Kootenay Lake, British Columbia, Canada. Historically (pre-Libby Dam), spawning habitat in the main stem of the river approximate 60 river miles from Shorty's Island in Idaho, upstream to Kootenai Falls in Montana. The extent of spawning habit in tributaries to the Kootenai River is unknown, but likely included hundred so miles as other white sturgeon populations are known to spawn in such habitats.
The Kootenai River White Sturgeon began declining in the 1960ís due to mining waste pollution and the diking off of backwater habitats on the river. After completion of the Libby Dam in 1975, sturgeon numbers plummeted. The last significant year of reproduction was 1974.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listed the Kootenai River White Sturgeon as a candidate for Endangered Species Act listing in 1991. In 1992 environmental groups (Idaho Conservation League, Northern Idaho Audubon and Boundary Backpackers) formally petitioned the agency to list it. It was listed as endangered on September 6, 1994.
The listing decision delayed the designation of critical habitat until September 6, 1995. The designation never happened, however, prompting a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity on June 30, 1999. On August 30, 2000, a federal judge ordered the Fish & Wildlife Service to designated critical habitat. A proposed designation of 11.2 miles on state land in Idaho was published December 21, 2001. The proposal includes less than 7% of the species 168 river-mile range. The final designation is due April 21, 2001.
In 1995, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service declared that Army Corps of Engineers management of Libby Dam is jeopardizing the existence of the Kootenai River sturgeon. It ordered the agency to conduct studies and alter dam water releases to protect the sturgeon. Five years later, the mitigation requirements were either not completed, or were too weak to help the sturgeon. In December 2000 the Fish and Wildlife Service again declared that Army Corps management of Libby Dam is jeopardizing the sturgeon. It again ordered the agency to conduct studies and change dam management. But as before, the mitigations are too weak.